Waterloo’s Ranking Neighbours

I (and many others) don’t put a lot of confidence in rankings as a useful tool for high school students in selecting universities, but people tend to look at them and debate nevertheless.  The problem is, there are so many rankings available with different criteria and methodologies.  How do you make any sense of it?

Recently, I was reading about a statistical analysis technique called nearest neighbour analysis, and it gave me the following idea.  Why not look at several ranking system results for Waterloo and see if there is any commonality in the universities that are ranked around the same level?  So, I looked at the most recent Engineering rankings from QS, Times Higher Education, US News, ARWU, and URAP, and focused on just universities in North America.  I looked at Waterloo’s position, and the next 10 ranked above and below.  The result is shown in the following table, where the number in parentheses is the global rank…

Next ten “best” universities above and below Waterloo Engineering according to 5 ranking systems.

As you might expect, the five different rankings have different absolute results.  The QS, US News, and Times rankings use “reputation” as a significant part of their criteria.  The ARWU and URAP are mainly bibliographic and count journal publications and citations (more of a research output basis).  However there are a few trends we can note.

Within Canada, the University of Toronto and University of British Columbia both appear 4 out of 5 times in the same group of plus or minus 10 North American positions.  From the United States, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Pennsylvania State, and University of Maryland, College Park also appear 4 times each.  The University of California system (UCLA, UCSD, UC Davis) shows up quite a few times, although no one campus more than 3 times. There are several other universities that appear 3 out of 5 times, which I will leave readers to discover on their own.

So instead of pondering the meaning of any one ranking, maybe this is a useful approach?  Look at all the rankings and see which universities tend to show up in the neighbourhood of the one you’re interested in.  Maybe someone can program an app that does this (if it doesn’t already exist).


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