The 2012/2013 QS World University rankings were recently released. As with previous posts, I’m going to focus on the faculty-specific rankings, not the general overall ones. The 2012/2013 Engineering & Technology top 200 rankings are available here. Let’s summarize the methods and results for Canadian engineering schools.
There is a careful distinction necessary when looking at the QS rankings. The overall university rankings are based on several metrics including: academic reputation (40%), employer reputation (10%), faculty/student ratio (20%), research journal citations per faculty (20%), international faculty ratio (5%), and international student ratio (5%). This seems reasonable to some extent. It’s a mix of reputation and quantitative data related to research and numbers of faculty.
However, the Engineering & Technology Faculty rankings are based ONLY on academic reputation. This is gathered by sending out thousands of online surveys to academics (including me; and no, you can’t vote for your own institution!). The academics are asked to list the top universities in their fields of expertise, up to a limit of 30 (if I recall correctly). I suspect most academics are like me, and pick a few universities that they know and like because of personal or research connections, or based on interesting work they’ve seen published recently. I didn’t spend much time on it (maybe 5 or 10 minutes) and certainly didn’t do an extensive analysis of hundreds of universities to determine which were the “best” according to my criteria. There was no requirement to justify why I picked those names. It was essentially all based on research work, since I don’t have much insight into the undergraduate teaching activities in other places.
So that’s the type of data that is being collected and used here in these rankings.
The top Canadian Engineering & Technology Faculty picks (with world ranking in parentheses):
Toronto (25), McGill (46), UBC (47), Waterloo (57), Alberta (114), Montreal (160), McMaster (181), Calgary (190).
As noted above, this ranking is essentially an opinion poll of engineering academics around the world, and will tend to be skewed by “name recognition” rather than any real analysis of “quality” (which is hard to define anyways). And I expect it is primarily based on research reputation, not the quality of the program or teaching or career opportunities. One might expect that the older and larger engineering schools will tend to have more name recognition, and therefore rank higher. Looking at the list, we sort of see that effect.
What does it mean for a potential undergrad applicant? It’s nice to have name recognition for your degree I suppose, and some people equate it to “prestige”. But it’s also good to keep in mind that the word “prestige” comes from French and Latin roots meaning “illusion” or “tricks”.
When it comes to graduate school, jobs and careers, your institution’s reputation or supposed prestige only counts until you open your mouth and start to talk. I’ve interviewed people from highly reputable universities that I would not hire nor recommend to anyone else. Conversely, I’ve hired people from institutions that don’t show up on the QS rankings, and had excellent results. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal development, growth, and passion for the profession, not the name of the university on your transcript or diploma.
So, one more piece of data to consider in choosing a place, and now you can decide how much weight to assign to that information.