Rising in the ranks
UAlberta jumps 12 places for second consecutive year in respected ranking of universities worldwide.
By MICHAEL BROWN
(Edmonton) The University of Alberta continued its rapid ascent among the world’s top universities by making its way into the top 90 of the post-secondary world’s most respected ranking.
The 2014-15 QS World University Rankings, released Sept. 15, saw the U of A move up an impressive 12 positions to 84th among the 2,000 universities rated in the survey.
The U of A has jumped a dozen spots in each of the last two years, landing at 96th last year before this year’s impressive showing. The latest results put the university in fifth place among its 26 Canadian counterparts.
The university has seen steady increases in virtually all the QS World University Rankings performance indicators since 2011, with the steepest increases coming in employer reputation, academic reputation and citations per faculty.
U of A provost Carl Amrhein says the surge in the reputation components is a direct result of a decade of recruiting professors across the career spectrum.
“It takes awhile for new professors to establish themselves and get their research programs underway, and get their reputations built,” he said. “I think we’re beginning to see the result of a very large cohort of very good young professors. We’ve also hired a smaller number of senior professors, and shifting their activity has taken some time.”
The QS World University Rankings ranks universities worldwide in six categories—academic reputation, employer reputation, student-to-faculty ratio, citations, and international faculty and students—with the bulk weight given to academic peer review (40 per cent), faculty-to-student ratio (20 per cent) and citations per faculty (20 per cent).
And though the U of A’s steady climb up the rankings is built primarily upon a superb academic and employer reputation score, healthy marks in the areas of international students and faculty have also helped with the rankings success.
“Ten years—or in the case of China, 20 years—of careful work, careful partnerships and program building has made us more front-of-mind when people conduct surveys that have a reputation component to them,” said Amrhein. “We also have a large cohort of international students whose presence is felt in our international programs, which broadens the conversation and brings a different set of perspectives to bear.”
When broken down by subject area, the U of A made top 100 showings in the areas of arts and humanities (89th) and life sciences and medicine (91st).
Regardless of the latest results, Amrhein says, the fact that the U of A has been ranked among the top 10 per cent of the world's schools year after year is testament to the work done in creating a first-rate learning experience.
“One of the areas that we are working diligently to protect is the component of our undergraduate programming that is hands-on and experience-based,” he said. “We are building the experiential learning components in all the faculties—sometimes it’s an internship, sometimes it’s a co-op, it could be community service learning, education abroad or undergraduate research initiatives. It’s a range of different things that take an undergraduate student out and beyond the traditional lecture format.”
Amrhein also says the university is still comparatively well funded provincially, especially when it comes to physical facilities.
"We have the facilities, we have the labs and we have the support that is difficult to find with some of our peers,” he said. “That has created a strong platform for recruiting and retaining professors, and in turn they’re the ones who attract the graduate students and the post-docs.”
Although the funding challenges stemming from the 2013 provincial budget have slowed the U of A’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the professoriate, hope that provincial funding levels will be restored gives Amrhein reason to believe that the U of A’s reputation will continue to strengthen.
“If we get the revenue, and are able to continue to build the professoriate, reputation will follow almost automatically,” he said. “That is the reputation that will continue to drive the rankings.”
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was named the top school in the rankings, followed by the University of Cambridge and the Imperial College of London. The top Canadian university on the list was the University of Toronto at 20, one spot ahead of McGill. The U of A closed the gap on the Université de Montreal (83), while leapfrogging such quality institutions as the University of Western Australia, the University of Auckland and the University of California, Davis.