Canada’s Best Programs 2020: Methodology

Maclean’s fifth annual program rankings assess research and reputation in 10 popular areas in the sciences and social sciences
University of Ottawa (University of Ottawa)
A lab at the University of Ottawa (University of Ottawa)

A big part of choosing a university involves deciding what program to pursue. To help get the process started, Maclean’s presents its fifth annual program rankings, which evaluate 10 popular programs in the sciences and social sciences from both a research and reputation perspective. For each area, we release results for the top 20 schools. Our program rankings do not include areas in the arts and humanities, since three of the five indicators used for the assessment draw on bibliometric data—publications and citations—which are not the best measure of output and impact in these areas.

The three bibliometric indicators are based on data provided by Scopus, part of the Elsevier Research Intelligence portfolio, one of the most comprehensive compendiums of peer-reviewed literature in the world. The other two indicators draw on the results of the Maclean’s survey of university faculty and senior administrators.

Bibliometric data measure the number of research publications produced by faculty over the past five years and assess the impact of this scholarly output within the scientific and academic community by measuring how often the works are cited by other researchers. The fractional publications indicator, weighted at 15 per cent, measures the volume of papers published at each university, adjusting for papers with multiple authors by lowering the count accordingly. The publication number is not adjusted for the size of faculty. While the number will undoubtedly be higher at larger institutions, it serves to indicate the scale of research conducted. 

The fractional citations indicator, weighted at 10 per cent, measures how often a paper was cited, and also takes into account if there are multiple authors on a paper. 

The field-weighted citation impact (FWCI) indicator contributes 25 per cent to the overall ranking. The FWCI indicator also measures how often a work is cited but is adjusted based on the global standards within each discipline, allowing universities to compare their performance to the world average. 

Results from the reputational survey reflect the views of 1,300 professors, deans and chairs at more than 80 universities across Canada. Academics were asked to identify their area of expertise, then list up to 10 universities they felt were offering the best programs and conducting the best research in that area. Program reputation is weighted at 40 per cent; research reputation is weighted at 10 per cent.

To be included in the rankings, universities must offer a program in the relevant area and have produced a minimum of 100 papers in that program area in the past five years. This minimum publication threshold is required because smaller numbers can skew results on the field-weighted citation impact measure.