University Rankings: Globe Survey

The Canadian news organization “The Globe and Mail” produces a nice website that has lots of information on various Canadian universities, and it was updated recently.  I wouldn’t call it a “ranking” like the QS or Times.  It’s more of a survey and comparison tool that you can customize in various ways for your own purposes.

Let’s look at the results for Waterloo Engineering, which are found at this link: http://www.globecampus.ca/navigator2/university-of-waterloo/   (make sure you click on the “Engineering & Technology” icon to get the Engineering-specific results).

Methodology

The results are based on a combination of two things:  1) hard data such as finances, numbers of faculty, class sizes, etc., and 2) a student survey on satisfaction across a variety of factors.

Compared to the international ranking systems, this survey is probably a better indicator of what students think about the university.  The survey includes 100 questions and was completed by 33,000 students across 60 universities, so it seems comprehensive.

On the downside, a student survey simply represents opinions (as the Globe points out), and is not an objective comparison of universities.  Why?  Well, very few students have attended more than one university, so how can their evaluation be a comparison?  I think it is probably more accurate to say that the survey results describe how well the students’ expectations have been met.  For example, if you start at a university expecting amazing classes and opportunities to be handed to you, and they don’t turn out, then you would probably give it a lower rating on a lot of survey questions.  For us in admissions and recruiting, it is a constant concern that we present good information and get students with realistic expectations (what applicants would call a “good fit”).

One other comment is that the Globe methodology indicates that some results may not have enough data to be statistically significant.  It seems that they still present the results however, and leave it to us to guess if there are meaningful differences or not.

Results

From the link above, let’s look at a few results that seem interesting to me.  For each rating, Waterloo’s “grade” is given as well as the “average grade” for its comparison group (other”large” institutions, including Toronto, McMaster, Ottawa, Western, but not Queens which is “medium”).

Waterloo’s overall (Engineering & Technology) grade is B+, compared to a B average, so that’s not bad.  In fact, most of the grades in various categories are equal to or better than the group average.  Maybe it’s easier to look at grades that are less than the group:  for example “Number of courses to choose from” is C+ versus B-.  A relatively small difference, and again it’s an opinion since most students don’t really know how many courses are available at other universities.  Other areas that are slightly lower than average are “sense of community” (likely due to the constant movement in our co-op system) and “attractiveness of buildings” (most of the campus is 1970’s and later architecture; I guess it’s not to everyone’s taste).

As we might expect, the place where our grades are higher are in the “Employment” section of results.  Students come to Waterloo for the co-op experience and career-building opportunities, and it seems that they are not disappointed overall.

One statistic that surprised me was the average first year class size:  124 for Waterloo and 210 for the group average.  That’s quite a large difference, and I didn’t realize Engineering classes were so big at other institutions.  Also, our fourth year classes (usually electives)  tend to be smaller than the group average.  Although Waterloo is a “large” institution, our focus has always been on keeping class sizes down and as personal as possible, so it’s nice to see this reflected in the numbers.

Meaning

For an applicant considering Waterloo Engineering, it’s a useful tool for finding out more about various factors that may be of interest or concern.  Since we don’t really know about statistical significance in these results, I wouldn’t put much thought into small differences in grades (e.g. B- versus B).  These differences may be due to random sampling noise.

The comparison ranking tool may be quite useful if you’re interested in certain criteria (up to 5) such as research performance and class size.  However, I don’t think it is specific to Engineering, so you have to be careful in interpreting the results.  There is probably some other useful functionality on the Globe website that I haven’t discovered.  If so, leave me a comment so I can look at it.

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