BY KAREN SEIDMAN
All three of Canada’s top universities slipped marginally in the 2014 World Reputation Rankings — a sign that the federal government’s pledge in February’s budget to invest $1.5 billion in new research funding may be just what the country’s universities need to bolster their sex appeal in a competitive world market.
Although the University of Toronto is still ranked higher than McGill University — and is the only Canadian university to crack the top 20 — the gap did narrow a bit between them.
U of T slipped to the 20th spot from 16th, while McGill and the University of British Columbia both dropped two places to 33rd.
The U.S.’s stable of elite universities remained solidly at the head of the pack, with the country’s universities only gaining strength and the U.S. being the undisputed superpower when it comes to university brands.
The Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings, made public on Wednesday, is a list of the world’s 100 most prestigious universities. The 2014 results are based on 10,536 responses from published senior academics.
It is valued not just by students, who consult such lists and rankings when choosing schools, but institutional reputation has also been shown to be of paramount importance for international academics deciding on job offers.
Phil Baty, editor of THE Rankings, said in an interview from London, England that a drop by all three of Canada’s universities in the rankings is a warning.
“Maybe it means Canada is punching below its weight,” he said. “It’s all about branding and how Canada is perceived in the world, and Canada is clearly in the shadow of the U.S.”
He believes that three top institutions for a nation of Canada’s size doesn’t seem particularly healthy. Compare it with 46 for the U.S., 10 for the U.K. and six for Germany. Even the Netherlands, less than half the size of Canada, has more top 100 institutions (four).
“In a highly globalized higher education sector, where academic reputation is the key to attracting international talent, investment and collaborations, this should be cause for concern,” Baty said.
While he believes the three Canadian universities are fantastic universities and still well entrenched in the top 40, he notes that McGill, in particular, has had a tough time recently.
Its image has taken a hit, he believes, because of the university’s battles with finances, public funding and student protests.
“McGill’s image has been disproportionately hit,” he said.
But he believes the federal government’s pledge to boost research funding could be key in bringing in new talent — depending on how it is doled out and who get the lion’s share.
Canada’s egalitarian system could be holding it back, says Baty, and other countries — like the U.K. and Germany — are starting to have success with a more stratified approach that gives more money to leading research institutions to help them make further advancements.
“You can’t fund every university to be world class,” said Baty. “If you fund every institution equally they will sink to the level of mediocrity rather than any of them rising to the top.”
Canada’s universities have pushed in the last year for a strategic investment in excellence to position Canada as a world leader in research and innovation, and they welcomed the government’s initiative in boosting support to research. But Baty says the government has to buy into the idea that, to fuel the economy, you have to use resources to create powerhouses. (The GAZETTE)