The reputation of Canada's top three universities got some added validation this week with the release of this year's QS World University Rankings, but the result for one of them was a bit ominous.
Montreal's McGill University, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia were ranked 18th, 19th and 45th respectively.
The U of T rose four places to crack the top 20, but McGill, Canada's top school for the ninth straight year, slipped a spot in 2012 compared with the previous year's rankings. And it was actually 12th in 2007.
McGill officials were pleased with the school's consistently high ranking but told QMI Agency its position could continue to fall without stable government funding.
Financing post-secondary education has been a political flashpoint in Quebec, where students took to the streets for weeks of protest this year over now-defeated Liberal premier Jean Charest's plans to raise tuition fees gradually over five years. It's among the lowest in Canada.
The incoming Parti Quebecois government has promised to cancel the tuition hikes but not spelled out how it will bolster post-secondary education.
Vice-principal Olivier Marcil told QMI "it would be a miracle" if McGill was still in the QS top 20 next year.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the world's top school, followed by the University of Cambridge, Harvard, University College London and Oxford.
McGill, which styles itself the Harvard of the North, U of T and UBC routinely come up as Canada's top schools in various annual surveys.
Toronto's top-20 ranking was due in part to it's strong academic reputation and, as the Huffington Post noted, by the fact it published more research than any other institution on the list during the ranking period.
This is the first time two Canadian schools have been in the top 20 among the 700 that are rated, the Montreal Gazette reported.
QS head of research Ben Sowter told the Gazette that the U of T's higher standing was due in part to an increase in the number of international students it attracts.
"It is an undisputed research powerhouse with an outstanding international reputation," Sowter added.
The Huffington Post noted the rankings are based on academic reputation (weighted at 40 per cent), employer reputation (10 per cent), faculty/student ratio (20 per cent), citations per faculty (20 per cent), international faculty ratio (five per cent) and international student ratio (five per cent).
McGill's Marcil told QMI that despite being a relatively small school and chronically underfunded, the international flavour of its downtown campus, talented pool of professors and researchers plus a low student-teacher ratio allows it to compete with the likes of Harvard, Yale and Cambridge.
McGill received an overall grade of 90.4 per cent, with U of T at 89.6 per cent and UBC 78.6 per cent, it's score dragged down by a low percentage of research citations.
Other Canadian schools in the rankings: University of Alberta, 108th, 64.2 per cent; Université de Montréal, 114, 63.5 per cent; McMaster University (Hamilton, Ont.), 152, 56.1 per cent; University of Western Ontario (London, Ont.) 173, 52.6 per cent; Queen's University (Kingston, Ont.), 175, 52.1 per cent; University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ont.), 191, 50.2 per cent.
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