The Top Canadian Research Universities… Really?

By Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, EPI International and Educational Policy Institute

This morning, as I work on a paper on University Ranking Systems for a presentation next week at the AACRAO Conference in Nashville, I came across an article on the “50 Top Research Universities in Canada” via Ken Steele and Academica’s Daily News List.

Another ranking of universities, this time by Research InfoSource, which, by what I can tell, is nothing more than a consulting firm that creates all these rankings just to get headlines and business. I don’t know who Ron Freedman of InfoSource is, but I don’t take any organization seriously when they refuse to put information about themselves on their website, AND they use their info as a vehicle for consulting, AND they sell advertising from their main page. Who are you?

But they found a niche here because we know that people want to know who the best is, even if the data are crap. Do you know how Research InfoSource figured out who is the “top” research university in Canada? Money. It is simply a ranking of how much R&D a university has. I guess that’s OK if by “top” you just mean “most.” But most people connote “top” to mean “best.” At the “top” of the class, so to speak. But we have no surprise to learn that UToronto has the most research revenues ($858M) of any university, by far, without anyone remotely close to them. UBC is $300M away, followed by UAlberta and UMontreal. So, UToronto is at the “top” of the rankings. What a surprise. Again? Really?

Here is the real easy take on this: the top 50 research universities in Canada? Let’s be real for a minute. There are arguably only about 65 universities PERIOD, in Canada. Some counts suggest less than 50, and the high count is 95 (according to the AUCC), but this includes branch campuses (sometimes fair) and some community college wannabes that think they are a university (penis envy). Just for fun, I wanted to find out how many colleges there are in Canada. I went, of course, to the ACCC site and they apparently don’t want people to know. In the end, I had to download their 2009-10 annual report, go the appendix, and count them. I came up with 125 members (not counting associates). Included in those members were universities, or wannabes, like Kwantlen that “converted,” but still isn’t on the list I have below of Canadian Universities. This is an additional challenge in rankings: we don’t even know who is who or what is what anymore. We just know that they all want to be universities.

So how can we do rankings of the 50 top research universities in Canada when arguably there are only slightly more than that many universities. AND, even if we do want to use the AUCC number of 95, so what? We now are ranking half of the universities in Canada. It really is a ranking of the top universities in Canada. Because if you aren’t doing research, you aren’t really a university (sorry if that hurts). Go back to being a college.

This is the stuff that drives rankings: we want to know who sits atop the hill and where our university is in relation. But these rankings are typically “hack” by any means. A brutal marketing ploy by a company that wants your business. Let’s call it for what it is. It is a ranking of highest research revenue institutions in Canada. Somehow if that changes your world, good for you. I’m wondering who would hire these guys, and for what? To do inventory at your institution and company? Count how many 2B pencils you have?

Beware the rankings, Ladies and Gentlemen.



Acadia University
Algoma University College
Athabasca University
Augustana University College
Bishop’s University
Brandon University
Brock University
Carleton University
Concordia University
Concordia University College of Alberta
Dalhousie University
Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal
First Nations University of Canada
HEC Montreal
Lakehead University
Laurentian University
Malaspina University College
McGill University
McMaster University
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Mount Allison University
Mount Saint Vincent University
Nipissing University
Okanagan University College
Queen’s University
Redeemer University College
Royal Roads University
Ryerson University
Saint Mary’s University
Saint Paul University
Simon Fraser University
St. Francis Xavier University
St. Thomas University
The King’s University College
Thompson Rivers University
Trent University
Trinity Western University
Université de Moncton
Université de Montreal
Université de Sherbrooke
Université du Québec
Université Laval
University College of the Fraser Valley
University of Alberta
University of British Columbia
University of Calgary
University of Guelph
University of King’s College
University of Lethbridge
University of Manitoba
University of New Brunswick
University of Northern British Columbia
University of Ottawa
University of Prince Edward Island
University of Regina
University of Saskatchewan
University of Sudbury
University of Toronto (UofT)
University of Victoria
University of Waterloo
University of Western Ontario
University of Windsor
University of Winnipeg
Wilfrid Laurier University
York University


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3 Responses to The Top Canadian Research Universities… Really?

  1. George Tillman says:

    Good luck getting an “exact” count of “colleges” – “community” or otherwise. The first problem: not all institutions that are called community colleges belong to ACCC…..
    But your note does give a nice indication of the difficulty in enumerating any category.

  2. Brad says:

    I agree with the point you are making about the number of universities and the fallacy of saying there are 50 ‘research’ universities in Canada. One issue I have, however, is in your list of Canadian universities. I am not sure where your source is, but there are institutions on that list that have new names (Malaspina is now Vancouver Island University, and UCFV is just UFV) or no longer even exist (merged with another institution, like Augustana Univ College which merged with UAlberta and Okanagan Univ College which merged with UBC). I also find it interesting that you include some of the community colleges in university clothing (Malaspina, Kings, Concordia, UCFV) but don’t include some of the other new universities who actually are larger, more research-focused, with a higher number of PhDs on faculty (like MacEwan University in Edmonton and Mount Royal University in Calgary, both admittedly colleges playing at universities but graduating significantly more students and with more national research funding than others mentioned above) or other new universities in BC (Kwantlen, Capilano – which I know less about but if you are going to include UCFV in your list it seems a bit odd not to include Kwantlen). This confusion helps to make your point about questioning what actually are the universities in Canada (and more importantly that everyone should beware the rankings), but undermines your credibility.

    • As I pointed out to Brad privately, this information is extracted from the AUCC and the ACCC — the most credible (perhaps that is a problem?) information on colleges and universities in Canada. if THEY can’t keep track of the institutions, we have a problem. And we do. Brad’s point is appropriate and accurate, but I do disagree with the “undermining your credibility” point. I stand by my commentary and the data behind it.

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