Montreal’s McGill University no longer Canada’s top-ranked school

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
Montreal’s McGill University no longer Canada’s top-ranked school

Montreal’s McGill University continues to struggle to maintain its international reputation, after the release of another ranking that sees the once-dominant Canadian university drop further down the list.

The 2013 QS World University Rankings have listed McGill as 21st on its list of top international institutions, down from 18th last year and 17th the year before.

And, for the first time, McGill is not considered to be Canada’s top school. The University of Toronto placed 17th on the list, moving up from 19th in 2012 and 23rd the previous year.

“In a difficult funding climate, it is gratifying that we have been able to maintain a top-20 ranking,” U of T President David Naylor said. “This result is a testament to the enduring excellence of our faculty, staff, and students.”

To some, this might be a case of "another day, another ranking." Our society loves rankings, loves slapping a title on best, or second best. Or worst.

Yesterday we learned that Canadians are the sixth-happiest people in the world. For whatever that is worth.

[ Related: Charter of Quebec values details to be revealed today ]

But these rankings — university rankings — are a different ball game. There are repercussions, responses; whether it comes as a simple decline in international acclaim or a drop in the number or quality of student enrollment. International rankings are something to which schools tend to pay attention.

McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier said as much this week. In a press statement, Fortier says she was proud the school remained in the top 25, calling it a "testament to the global reach and impact of McGill."

She also told the Montreal Gazette she knew the school was trending the wrong direction in the results, adding she was specifically concerned about the increasing ratio of students to faculty members.

“We want our graduates to be people who have not only knowledge but creativity, and the more we put them in environments where they can have dynamic interactions with professors, the better it is,” Fortier told the newspaper. “When student-faculty ratios increase, we’re certainly not going in the right direction.”

[ More Brew: Global happiness survey suggests Canadians are happy bunch ]

This isn't the beginning of the decline for McGill, once considered Canada's answer to Harvard and comfortably ranked the country's best university.

The University slipped from its place as Canada's top school on a separate international list earlier this year.

According to Times Higher Education's reputation ranking, McGill slipped out of the top 25 schools in the world, down to 31, and behind the University of Toronto (ranked 16th).

McGill officials have previously blamed a lack of government funding for the school's concerns, and the problem hasn’t sorted itself out.

"Competition in the global race for talent is fierce," Fortier said this week.

"We need adequate investment in higher education not only to support our capacity to attract top talent from around the world but to offer them a learning, teaching and research experience that rivals that of the best universities in the world. ... It is crucial for Canada’s competitiveness that we keep pace."

There was some good news for Canada in the QS World University Rankings, however. A total of 26 Canadian schools were ranked on the list — three more than last year — and a total of five schools in the top 100.

The number of schools on the list put Canada in a tie with Italy as the seventh-best performing country.

Canada's top 5 schools, per the 2013 QS World University Rankings:

  • University of Toronto (ranked 17th)
  • McGill University  (21st)
  • University of British Columbia (49th)
  • Universite de Montreal (92nd)
  • University of Alberta (96th)

The QS World University Rankings underlined student/faculty ratios as a key problem for many North American schools. It is also an indicator of funding issues, so McGill does not stand alone in that regard.

But other Canadian universities have managed to climb up the list of top international institutions, while McGill continues to drip downward.

It certainly isn't the right direction for a school once known as Harvard North.

Want to know what news is brewing in Canada?
Follow @MRCoutts on Twitter