New ranking system marks efforts and output of Canada’s universities
Every academic is familiar with the mantra “publish or perish,” where research productivity is considered the key to grant money, status and career advancement. But research is also the currency of the realm in the increasingly cutthroat world of university enrolment, where schools compete against one another for students, funding and public esteem.
The problem, though, is that all research is not created equal. And the most common tools used to measure it – counting the number of published articles, analyzing citations or looking at research income and patents – fail to accurately account for the differences between disciplines and institutions.
That has prompted a Toronto-based research company that specializes in higher education to create a new ranking system to measure research strength at Canadian universities – including the top-performing University of British Columbia – by evaluating individual professors using the standards of their own discipline in order to provide a different perspective on Canada’s top schools.
The report by Higher Education Strategy Associates (HESA) marks the first attempt in Canada to measure a school’s research outputs and funding while taking into account the differences in publication cultures and avail-able funding across disciplines.
“It’s about accuracy,” said HESA’s president Alex Usher. “The issue with any kind of comparison is making sure you’re actually looking at apples to apples.”
The data contained in the report was divided into two categories: natural sciences and engineering, and social sciences and humanities.
The University of British Columbia (UBC) ranked first in both categories. On the science and engineering side, it was followed by the University of Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and McGill. On the social sciences and humanities side, UBC – where the average professor boasts a record of publication productivity and citations that is twice the national average for their discipline – was followed by McGill, Toronto and Alberta, with Guelph and Montreal tied in fifth.
HESA excluded medical and health-related disciplines from the study because schools have differing practices for how they list staff, making it difficult to know who should be included and who should not.
As a result, University of Toronto, Canada’s largest school, appears weaker overall than it would if medicine had been included.
“We recognize that this exclusion means that our results necessarily will understate the institutionwide performance levels of those universities that demonstrate true excellence in medical fields,” the report says.
To arrive at its conclusions, HESA used a combination of metrics that balanced historical performance with current or potential strength and took varying disciplinary standards into account, so strength in a particular field was not seen as strength across an entire university. It measured every professor by the standards of their own field of study – using an index that combines productivity and impact, and then added up all of those professors’ scores to calculate an institutional score.
“What we’re measuring is how good is your average professor,” Usher said.
“An incredibly productive historian or sociologist, the best one in the country, is not producing at the level of the average physicist, so you have to correct for that kind of stuff.”
Simon Fraser University, not considered a leading research-intensive university, made both top 10 lists. (The Vancouver Sun)