Rankings distract McGill from student needs

The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) have each released their respective rankings of the world’s top universities for the upcoming academic year. After eight years of decline, McGill has improved in both rankings. CWUR rates McGill as the 27th-best university in the world, an increase of three places since last year. According to QS, McGill has risen four points, from the world’s 35th-best university last year to the 31st-best this year. Although administrators have celebrated the reversal of the downward trend, it is worth examining the methods by which organizations such as CWUR and QS rank universities. Rankings are based on flawed methodologies—instead of sparking active change, they only reaffirm McGill’s reputation. Rather than competing with other universities based on superficial characteristics, McGill should focus more on enhancing students’ experiences.

There is no way for university rankings to be completely objective, but the measures by which QS and CWUR evaluate schools are highly questionable. QS and CWUR place a significant amount of weight on overly specific and highly subjective factors that have little to do with student experiences and potential for future success beyond the metrics of business and academia. 40 per cent of QS rankings are determined by an opinion survey of certain academics on the reputation of the various universities. Similarly, CWUR bases 25 per cent of its rankings on what percentage of alumni go on to work in executive positions at the world’s most powerful companies. 

According to these rankings, what makes a university successful is the presence of its alumni in wealthy corporations and the opinions of academic elites. However, rankings ignore what are arguably more important factors, such as student satisfaction. Unlike QS and CWUR, Maclean’s magazine publishes an annual ranking of Canadian universities using the results of a student-satisfaction survey. According to this list, McGill’s students were only the eighth-most satisfied with their university among the student bodies of fifteen of Canada’s major research universities. Overall rankings for student satisfaction were determined through the assessment of several different categories. The survey found that the university is particularly lacking in mental health services and experiential learning.

It has been proven that graduates of prestigious universities receive better employment opportunities after they graduate. However, creating a healthy environment for students is just as important as preparing them for their careers. Students should question why administrators are interested in celebrating such a narrow definition of success while ignoring student dissatisfaction regarding experiential learning and mental health services as demonstrated by the Maclean’s survey. McGill’s administration appears to be more focused on projecting its influence externally rather than taking action to address the concerns that affect their students during their studies. This trend is highlighted by the “Made by McGill” campaign, which promotes the achievements of outstanding students in an effort to improve the school’s reputation and raise funds. Although students rated McGill’s experiential learning program negatively in the Maclean’s survey, the university plans to spend three times more of the funds raised from “Made by McGill” on research than on hands-on education, which, unlike research, is not assessed by most rankings. There is no mention of increasing funding for McGill’s poorly rated mental health services, even though such support helps students achieve higher grades and remain in school longer. The university’s prestige is important, but students suffer when their schools ignore their needs and prioritize the school’s reputation, especially when research is funded instead of mental health services. Promoting student achievements starts by helping students first. 

Although McGill’s ascent in world university rankings is something to be proud of, rankings should neither define McGill nor its student body. The school should prioritize a safe and healthy learning environment for students from all backgrounds. The most important rankings should not be from the opinions of elite outsiders, but from the students, who experience McGill’s campus and its services firsthand.

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