Singing the last-place blues

Ryerson has certainly hogged its share of the public spotlight this month. It’s only the third week of the term and we’ve already weathered a whirlwind of big-ticket press councils, celebrity-studded film festivals, and homeless neon signs.

As the TIFF lineups empty and the books slam shut on the Sam The Record Man debacle, it’s as good a time as ever to take a breather and run a check-up on ourselves. And unfortunately, the news at home isn’t quite so glamourous.

We’re in last place — or so the 2013 QS World University Rankings would have us believe. Ryerson stands at No. 701 in the study, which grades universities according to factors such as such as student-to-faculty ratio and number of citations. That’s lower than any other Canadian school.
Some of our apparent failures are excusable, biased by the study’s methodology and by circumstance. But even a shiny golden road can’t distract us from the fact that our academic standing isn’t where it should be.

The biggest flaw with the QS study is the way it values the indicators it uses to determine a school’s rank. A school’s overall score is a combination of grades in different areas, but those grades don’t carry equal weight in the calculation of the final grade.

“Academic reputation” and “citations per faculty” collectively make up sixty per cent of the total score. But both of these metrics are fairly irrelevant for Ryerson, which has long billed itself as a “career-focused” institution. “Employer satisfaction,” a more important indicator, accounts for only ten per cent of the total.

Ryerson actually comes out ahead when you look at the individual subject rankings — especially the ones that represent Ryerson’s traditional strengths. In “Communication and Media Studies” we stand somewhere between 151-200, alongside Carleton, McMaster and the University of Ottawa. That’s not bad company by any means.

The results of the study are not nearly comprehensive enough to let us make judgments about Ryerson’s place relative to post-secondary education in Canada. The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) represents ninety-eight schools across the country. Only twenty-six make it into the QS study.

It may seem like cherry-picking to highlight only the parts of the study that make us look good and ignore the downsides. But in many ways, that’s exactly how students — and employers — measure the value of our school. People look to Ryerson for the reputation and networking opportunities of a program like RTA (Radio and Television Arts), not for the volume of research we pump out.

We aren’t the University of Toronto or McGill and we shouldn’t be trying to become them. So we shouldn’t feel too slighted when we see our school at the bottom of a list that’s heavily biased in favour of established research universities.

But that’s not an excuse to ignore our academic shortcomings. Years ago, Ryerson made the choice to switch from polytechnic college to university and to swap diplomas for degrees. Recent additions like this year’s inaugural B.A. program in Philosophy demonstrate that we’re still set in that path.

And considering that this new study isn’t the only one to deck us points — in 2012, Maclean’s ranked Ryerson twelfth out of fifteen in a list of comprehensive universities — it’s becoming clearer that our school owes it to its undergrads and research-focused students to step it up.

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