Shanghai: No surprise

by Paul Wells

The 2008 Academic Ranking of World Universities, from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, is out. The “Shanghai rankings,” as they’re called, are watched very closely by university administrators and easily-distracted nationalists around the world, as a prime indicator of countries’ ability to compete in the global knowledge race. (Which isn’t to say the methodology is beyond reproach, only that everyone loves a list.)

How’d Canada do? Quite well. U.S. universities had more than half of the top 100, the UK 11, Germany 6. Four Canadian universities — Toronto, UBC, McGill, McMaster made the top 100, with two more, Alberta and Université de Montréal, in the second tranche from 101-51. Germany and France, with much larger populations, had 6 and 3 universities, respectively, in the top 100.

But with one exception, Canadian universities have been holding steady in the past five years’ rankings, neither advancing nor falling back. That exception is…

…McGill, which rose from 79th place in 2003 to 60th in 2008. Discuss among yourselves…

UPDATE: If you rank universities by prominence in various academic fields, Canada has the third-highest total number of institutions mentioned, for whatever that’s worth.


Shanghai: No surprise

  1. No surprises? Clearly I have not been paying attention to Canadian university rankings since I graduated in early ’90s.

    What’s happened to Western, Waterloo and Queens. They were leading schools way back when I was paying attention to this kind of stuff.

    Guelph, my alma mater, is ranked above Western and Waterloo? You can knock me over with a feather.

  2. The Shanghai rankings accord a hell of a lot of weight to the presence, among alumni or faculty, of Nobel or Fields laureates. For all I know there’s one or two associated with Guelph, and suddenly everything happening at Waterloo matters less. I suspect that has something to do with McGill’s rapid advance too….anyone nail that down?

  3. Shh, people, not so loud! McGill can lead the world, just so long as it is number 2 in Québec.

  4. Interesting. UofT has suffered in the last couple of Macleans rankings (if I recall correctly), but seems firmly entrenched as the best Canadian school in this ranking.

    Assuming both studies are useful, but different, I draw two very simple (perhaps too simple) conclusions. One, the best Canadian schools are turning their attentions outward (which is good) and, two, they will never crack the international top 10 until our governments relax the rules on tuition, etc… (which is, as of right now, bad). As wealthy as UofT is by Canadian standards, it will never compete with Harvard, Stanford, etc… (which should be its goal) until our rules allow it to fund itself better.

  5. Wow. I didn’t think York University (where I am now) would be in the top 10 or anything, but it didn’t even crack the top 500?

    Here are the Canadian universities that made the 500, in descending order of rank, with ties (i.e. same bracket but no specific rank) listed together:
    -Alberta, Montreal
    -Dal, Queen’s, Simon Fraser, Calgary, Guelph, Laval, Manitoba, Ottawa, Sask, Victoria, Waterloo, UWO
    -Carleton, Quebec, Sherbrooke

  6. McGill ascendant?

    I hope my brother-in-law doesn’t hear this. He’s insufferable enough as it is.

  7. If anyone’s hard up for something to do, I’d be curious whether any university in the top 100 rose more rapidly than McGill between 2003 and 2008. Still I’m not sure it’s due to anything more than, say, an alumnus winning a Nobel in the interim or something.

  8. A lot of the indicators are not adjusted for faculty size (because of the difficulty in getting consistent reporting on things like how many professors each institution has across 1000 institutions around the world). Queen’s being a relatively small university, therefore comes off looking worse in the ARWU than it does in domestic rankings, or than it would in a ranking which looked at research efficiency. All of wihch is ironic, because the guy in Shanghai responsible for this is a Queen’s alumni.

    This is basically a research ranking; York doesn’t crack the top 500 because it;s not really a research university (not having a medical school is a big minus in these types of exercizes). As for McGill’s rapid rise: there have been a couple of methodology tweaks to methodology since 2003 when the ARWU was first published, which may acount for some of McGill’s movement – in particular institutions have had a lot of discussions about how to include citations in medical journals done by researchers at allied teaching hospitals. I’ll spare you the details on the bibliometric issues involved, but suffice to say they are not negligible in terms of outcomes.

  9. Thanks Alex. I should also note that, while Sarkozy’s government is keeping its stated goal of putting 10 universities on the Shanghai Top 100 by 2012 (up from 3), they also realize this is effectively impossible and France is leading parallel discussions to create a parallel ranking that doesn’t “unfairly favour” English-language universities.

  10. jwl: “Guelph, my alma mater, is ranked above Western and Waterloo? You can knock me over with a feather.”

    No, it’s just alphabetically ahead. Guelph and Waterloo are officially both in the 201-300 range and “institutions within the same rank range are listed alphabetically.” For real geeks, there’s a spreadsheet you can download (, with columns for each school’s score in each category. Applying the weighting of the study gets you these rankings for Canadian school (global rank included):

    “Score” Rank School
    42.0 24 Univ Toronto
    35.4 35 Univ British Columbia
    29.1 60 McGill Univ
    24.4 89 McMaster Univ
    22.9 106 Univ Alberta
    20.6 133 Univ Montreal
    16.2 201 Univ Calgary
    16.0 208 Univ Waterloo
    15.8 211 Univ Western Ontario
    15.4 219 Univ Laval
    15.3 226 Queen’s Univ
    15.0 232 Dalhousie Univ
    14.8 243 Univ Ottawa
    14.3 253 Univ Guelph
    14.3 255 Univ Manitoba
    14.2 257 Univ Saskatchewan
    13.7 271 Univ Victoria
    12.9 298 Simon Fraser Univ
    9.9 409 Univ Quebec
    9.9 411 Carleton Univ
    9.7 423 Univ Sherbrooke

    (They have Toronto at 45.8, I get 42.0. Whatever.)

    So Waterloo gets to claim 208th-best in the world against Guelph’s 253rd. I and the rest of Inkless’ vast K/W readership are pleased.

    “Univ Quebec” must refer to all ten schools, which is kind of weird when UCLA, UC-Davis, etc. are all separate. Then again, those schools probably have more resources than, say, UQTR.

    Alex: “A lot of the indicators are not adjusted for faculty size”

    Actually, in some way, all of them are. 10% of the final score is the “weighted scores of the [other] five indicators divided by the number of full-time equivalent academic staff.” Whether or not 10% is enough, who knows.

    pw: “I’d be curious whether any university in the top 100 rose more rapidly than McGill between 2003 and 2008″

    As best as I can tell:

    Change 03 08 Inst.
    79 149 70 Moscow State Univ
    61 143 82 Univ Nottingham
    60 154 94 Arizona State Univ Tempe
    51 137 86 Stockholm Univ
    50 141 91 Univ Birmingham
    49 89 40 Univ Manchester
    38 75 37 Univ Maryland College Park
    38 130 92 Indiana Univ Bloomington
    30 123 93 Aarhus Univ
    28 94 66 Hebrew Univ Jerusalem
    26 57 31 New York Univ
    24 73 49 Univ Paris 11
    21 65 44 Univ Paris 06
    21 66 45 Univ Copenhagen
    19 79 60 McGill Univ
    19 81 62 Ohio State Univ Columbus
    19 92 73 Univ Melbourne
    19 115 96 Univ Freiburg

    Ranks here are kind of fudged, because they’re based on “score” and not the real score. But it should be close enough.

    I’ll leave the analysis to others, but I note two Paris schools on that list, and only 14 Top 100 institutions jumped more than McGill did.

    (Man, that took way too long.)

  11. And WordPress apparently does not like tabs, so just imagine those columns line up correctly.

  12. Paul, McGill has not added a Nobel or Field Prize winner among its faculty or alumni; what it has done is just improve in other areas measured by these rankings. The rise over the past few years is really just the result of hard work and a lot of right choices, which have also been recognized in other rankings, like Maclean’s and the Times Higher Education Supplement.

  13. I’m entirely willing to believe Heather Munroe-Blum is simply running a better school, Doug. Rob, thanks very much for the absolutely heroic tabulating work. Sorry our software defeated your design ambitions.

  14. This is a next-to-useless indicator because different fields have different rates of citation. Thus McMaster inexplicably outranks other places because of its medical focus (a citation-heavy field).

    By comparison, in political science the top journal is the APSR, which averages six citations. Endocrine reviews has over 40, but is just as influential (actually it is almost certainly less influential).

    Articles in Nature and Science are weighted equally with publications in every single other journal, which is simply ridiculous. Those are important journals sure, but equal in importance to every other journal?

    For a decent ranking, that divides things by field, go to and rate citations, faculty quality and education quality really high, and you will get a much better idea of rankings, based on NSF data (unfortunately this excludes non-US schools).

    • Actually McMaster ranks highest in the Social Science according to ARWU subject ranking. They are in the top 50 beating out UofT and McGill.

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