11 universities bail out of Maclean's survey

Eleven Canadian universities tell Maclean's magazine the methodology it uses to rank institutions is "oversimplified" and "arbitrary."

Eleven Canadian universities advised Maclean's magazine on Monday that they will not participate in this year's survey that assigns rankings to each institution because of concerns about the methodology and the validity of some of the measures.

In a letter to Tony Keller, the magazine's managing editor of special projects, the universities said they have expressed their "considerable reservations" to Maclean's for some years, but to little avail.

"Thus far, these serious concerns have gone largely unaddressed, and there is still no evidence that Maclean's intends to respond to them," they said.

The universities said they already publish a lot of data online about themselves and intend to add more to allow people to make valid comparisons.

"However, it is truly hard for us to justify the investment of public funds required to generate customized data for your survey when those data are compiled in ways that we regard as oversimplified and arbitrary," they said.

The letter was signed by the presidents of:

  • University of Toronto.
  • McMaster University.
  • University of Ottawa.
  • University of British Columbia.
  • Simon Fraser University.
  • University of Alberta.
  • University of Calgary.
  • University of Lethbridge.
  • University of Manitoba.
  • Université de Montréal.
  • Dalhousie University in Halifax.

The universities said they found it inappropriate that the survey collects data on a wide range of things— such as class size, faculty, finances, library and reputation— and then arbitrarily assigns weightings to generate a single ranking number.

They were also troubled by the magazine's reliance on survey data with low response rates and the practice of using different kinds of data out of context, resulting in "apples and oranges" comparisons.

The universities left the door open to participating in the survey at some future date, "particularly if we can agree on a means to ensure that the data will be valid and the analyses truly informative."

Keller said Maclean's will continue to publish its annual rankings of 47 universities, including the 11 that have decided to opt out of the survey.

"All of the information is available publicly," Keller said. "So the decision of some universities to say they are not going to fill out an information form that we sent them doesn't really change anything."