It’s the most competitive time of the year for post-secondary institutions, what with the release of the world university rankings.

The QS World University Rankings, released two weeks ago, placed the University of Toronto in thirty-fourth position; dropping 14 places from last year. McGill University (24) and University of British Columbia (50) ranked among the top 50 universities in the world.

QS World University Rankings uses six indicators, each carrying a different weight, to calculate every university’s score. The indicators — academic reputation, employer reputation, student-to-faculty ratio, citations per faculty, international faculty ratio, and international student ratio — are chosen because they can be measured and compared across borders.

“Costs and loan programs vary hugely across the world. For example, Finland offers free tuition, while the average cost of a US education is $21,109,” said QS head of research Ben Sowter. “This means that this metric would be unsuitable for producing a World Rankings, and would lead to an unrepresentative end product.”

“QS is producing a World University rankings, and therefore it needs to choose metrics that have supporting data from across the world. Student outcome data is not produced everywhere,” added Sowter.

This week, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings will be released, which l.ists universities according to teaching, research, citations, industry outcome, and international outlook. Last year, U of T placed 20 in the world and first in Canada.

Within Canada, Maclean’s Magazine released its annual rankings of Canadian universities, placing each institution according to type: undergraduate, comprehensive, and medical doctoral. Maclean’s rankings are based on students and classes, faculty, resources, student support, library, and reputation.

Although limited to Canadian universities, Maclean’s placed a 20 per cent weight on reputation when determining rankings.

Government Response

In the US, President Obama argued that college ranking systems neglect student outcomes and facilitated the launching of College Scorecard, a website which provides information about graduation rates, tuition fees and salary after graduation.

The New York Times reported that while President Obama initially wanted to rate the quality of colleges and universities, officials “said the government had no business competing with college rating services like those offered by US News and World Report.”

Although the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities does not rank universities, and has no plans to introduce its own ranking system, the ministry publishes key performance indicators including employment rates, graduation rates, and student loan default rates.

“Our approach is to recognize the strengths of our diverse institutions in a differentiated system, while concentrating on successful outcomes for students and ensuring they have the information they need to make the right choices,” said ministry spokesperson Tanya Blazina. “These performance indicators are helpful measures that assist new, and prospective students, in making program choices — and they demonstrate the value of a postsecondary education for both the individual and the province.”

According to these indicators from 2014, U of T, on average, has a 77 per cent graduation rate and 85 per cent employment rate after six months.

Students in the Rankings

In order to provide a resource for students that is both transparent and customizable, the online resource UniversityHub provides rankings focusing on undergraduate education in Canada, which is based on student and alumni reviews of over 55 evaluation areas.

Despite being well-ranked globally U of T falls behind in several of UniversityHub’s categories. For example, in the category of “Comfort in securing the job you want,” U of T ranks 23 out of the 26 universities with Saint Francis Xavier University taking the top spot.

“Ultimately, all the publications out there have static rankings with a pre-determined weighting system without consulting students. This could result in students choosing a university that isn’t at all what they are looking for,” said UniversityHub co-founders Joel Nicholson and Alex Dorward.

“Every student is incredibly different when it comes to what they want out of a university experience, yet we obsess over league tables that put us into a single, homogenous category.”