Dal slips out of top 200 ranking
Students, administrators are unfazed with the rating given this year by Times Higher Education.
Dalhousie University is no longer one of the world's top 200 universities. At least, not according to the Times Higher Education QS World University rankings for 2009.
Last year Dal took 197th place in the international survey. This fall, it slipped to 214.
Dalhousie's drop might seem relatively insignificant, but it's the first step in the opposite direction for a university that's been going steadily upwards since it achieved number 270 when the rankings started four years ago.
"We're not analyzing it too closely," said Dal spokesperson Charles Crosby. "Any number of things could have affected that. We're not concerned with individual rankings."
But rankings are important to universities. The president's welcome on the Dalhousie website trumpets the university finishing first in The Scientist Magazine's international research school rankings.
Rankings are subjective
While rankings like these can be a bragging point, it's hard to tell exactly how much of a role they play in a university's ultimate success - depending on how success is measured. It's usually related to enrolment, but there's no direct cause-and-effect data to prove anything.
"It's a subjective thing," says Crosby. "Besides, enrolment is up four per cent this year."
Prospective students look at a wide variety of criteria before choosing a school, including class size, facilities and overall student experience. Those criteria aren't counted by the Times Higher Education study, which bases its rankings on academic peer reviews and international factors such as proportion of international students and international faculty.
For most Canadians considering where to get an undergraduate education, those things don't matter, says Dalhousie Student Union President Shannon Zimmerman.
"Personally when I was trying to decide on a university, I didn't look at rankings like these," says Zimmerman. "Student experience is important. And I know the university does a lot of recuitment within Canada, getting to see people face-to-face has more of an impact than reading rankings of 200 schools."
That's not to completely discount university surveys.
"The Maclean's rankings have played a role in the past," says Crosby of prospective student decision making.
But four years ago Dalhousie - and most other G13 universities - withdrew from the Maclean's survey, citing unfair methodology. They were particularly concerned about the way Maclean's tried to rank student experience.
Instead, the university banks on its existing reputation and its own statistics.
The way the world sees it
The Times Higher Education rankings come as Dal's medical school was placed on probation for two years by the international Liaison Committee for Medical Education,
Suddenly, looking good outside of Canada might be an issue.
Rankings like this could matter on an international level, says Zimmerman.
And Dalhousie needs a strong international reputation. Dal currently has almost 1,200 international students, which are the university's fastest growing group, says Crosby.
According to preliminary statistics from the Association of Atlantic Universities, the number of international students at Dalhousie increased 17.9 per cent over last year.
The Times Higher Education QS World University Rankings are designed for an international audience. Published in the London, the top 200 list includes universities from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Switzerland, Japan and China, to name a few.
A slip like this could mean fewer international student applications both on a full-time and exchange basis, says Amy Braye, study abroad and exchange adviser at Dalhousie. These are the kinds of rankings that academic advisers at universities around the world use to form opinions of faraway schools, she says.
Other Canadian universities improved their ranking this year. McGill rose to spot 18, and the University of Toronto jumped to number 29.
But there's no reason there can't be anything positive in this.
"I think the university should look at it as an opportunity," says Zimmerman. "It proves that whoever made the decision saw some things that weren't up to the standard they were looking for."