Universities 2000

Window into the Rankings

How Maclean's takes the measure of Canadian universities

Ann Dowsett Johnston,Mary Dwyer November 20 2000
Universities 2000

Window into the Rankings

How Maclean's takes the measure of Canadian universities

Ann Dowsett Johnston,Mary Dwyer November 20 2000

Window into the Rankings

Universities 2000

How Maclean's takes the measure of Canadian universities

Ann Dowsett Johnston

Mary Dwyer

The Maclean's ranking takes a measure of the undergraduate experience at Canada's public universities. It compares schools in three peer groupings, universities with similar structures and mandates. Using such factors as research funding, diversity of offerings and the range of PhD programs to define groupings, the universities are placed in one of three categories:

Medical Doctoral

Universities with a broad range of PhD programs and research, as well as medical schools.


Universities with a significant amount of research activity and a wide range of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including professional degrees.

Primarily Undergraduate

Universities largely focused on undergraduate education, with relatively few graduate programs.

In reporting to Macleans, universities include all federated and affiliated institutions. The magazine does not rank schools with fewer than 1,000 hall-time students, or those with a strictly religious or specialized mission.

The universities in the three categories are treated as separate but equal. Macleans ranks the schools on a range of factors in six broad groupings (weightings are in parentheses below). In total, Primarily Undergraduate universities are ranked on 20 performance measures, Comprehensive universities on 21 and Medical-Doctoral universities on 22— resulting in slightly different weightings for some performance measures.

STUDENT BODY (21 to 22% of final score)

Students are enriched by the input of their peers. For that reason, Macleans collects the incoming students’ average highschool grades (12%), and the proportion of those with averages of 75 per cent or higher (3%).

This count includes only those students whose secondaryschool averages or CEGEP scores served as the basis of admission. Mature students, for example, are excluded. As well, it should be noted that certain universities, in the spirit of accessibility, accept students with lower grades.

As a measure of drawing power, the magazine also counts the proportion of out-of-province students in the first-year undergraduate class (1%), and for Comprehensive and Medical-Doctoral universities, the percentage of international students at the graduate level (1%).

The student-body section also includes graduation rates (2%): the percentage of full-time undergraduate students in their second year who go on to graduate from the institution within one year of the expected time period. In addition, Macleans collects data on the success of the student body at winning national academic awards (3%) over the past five years.

CLASSES (17 to 18%)

The rankings embrace the entire distribution of class sizes at the firstand second-year levels (7.5% for Primarily Undergraduate universities, 7% for the other two categories), as well as the thirdand fourth-year levels (7.5% for the Primarily Undergraduate category 7% for the others). Classsize groupings are: 1 to 25; 26 to 50; 51 to 100; 101 to 250; 251 to 500; 501 plus. Macleans also ranks schools on the percentage of first-year classes taught by tenured and tenuretrack professors (3%), a measure of how much access new students have to top faculty.


The rankings assess the calibre of faculty by calculating the percentage of those with PhDs (3%), and the number who win national awards (3%). In addition, the magazine measures the success of eligible faculty in securing grants from each of the three major federal granting agencies: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Medical Research Council of Canada (now incorporated into the Canadian Institutes of Health Research), as well as the Canada Council. Macleans takes into account both the number and the dollar value received last year. Social sciences and humanities grants plus Canada Council grants (5.5%) and medical/science grants (5.5%) were tallied as separate indicators.


This section examines the amount of money available for current expenses per weighted full-time-equivalent student (3.3%), as well as the percentage of the budget spent on student services (4.3%) and scholarships and bursaries (4.3%). When presenting their general operating budget, institutions deducted any funds used to pay off debt.


This section assesses the breadth and currency of the university’s collection. Schools received points for the number of volumes and volume equivalents per total number of students (4% for Primarily Undergraduate and Comprehensive, 3% for Medical-Doctoral). An additional indicator, measuring total holdings, regardless of student numbers, was used in the Medical-Doctoral category (1%) to acknowledge the importance of extensive on-campus collections in those universities. As well, Macleans measured the percentage of a university’s operating budget that was allocated to library services (4%) and the percentage of the actual library budget that was spent on updating the collection (4%). In acknowledging a shift from the traditional library model to an access model, Macleans captures spending on electronic resources in both the library expenses and acquisitions measurements.


This section reflects a university’s reputation with its own graduates, as well as within the community at large. When looking at alumni support, institutions received points for the number—rather than the value—of gifts to the university over the past five years (5%).

For its reputational survey (15%), Macleans sent surveys to 7,087 individuals across the country. Respondents rated the schools in three categories: Highest Quality, Most Innovative and Leaders of Tomorrow. Best Overall represents the sum of the scores. GH


This year, Macleans canvassed the opinion of 7,087 individuals across the country. They included high-school guidance counsellors, university officials, the heads of a wide variety of national and regional organizations, plus CEOs and recruiters at corporations large and small.

The reputational survey is both regional and national in character, dividing the country into four key areas: the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario and the western provinces. All respondents completed a national survey; university officials and guidance counsellors also completed regional surveys.