Dalhousie University’s ranking: Helpful or hindrance?

Dalhousie student Megan Fenchek is proud to wears Dalhousie’s emblem, even if the University of Toronto ranked more than 220 spots higher than Dal in a global survey of universities. Photo: Beth McKay

Students have varying opinions about what the Times Higher Education polling program says about the quality of education at Dalhousie and other universities.

This year, the poll ranked Dalhousie University in the 226 and 250 range of nearly 400 universities polled worldwide. The program ranks universities based on a survey of scholars.

Though Dalhousie is the highest-ranked Atlantic university, it’s in the middle of the pack. It’s far behind other Canadian schools such as the University of Toronto and McGill in Montreal.

Some students say there’s more to choosing a university than where it places on a list.

“Some people place a great value on the high ranking of their school because they feel it gives them an accomplishment,” says Jillian Jung, who graduated from Dal in 2014 and attends a Dublin medical school.

Instead of comparing rankings, Jung considered other factors when choosing to attend Dalhousie, including its location and extracurricular activities.

“While I don’t think rankings are a good thing, it is apparent that we live in a society that places high value on them,” she says.

Dal ranked higher in the latest Times Higher Education than in 2013. Photo: Beth McKay

Annabel Sibalis, on the other hand, says she chose to enroll in the University of Toronto’s psychology program “because I knew of its high reputation from multiple sources, but mainly from the university polls.”

U of T is the top Canadian university, with a rank of 20 in the poll. U of T has placed the Times Higher Education logo and website link on its own website to promote its score.

But are such polls causing harm to institutions with lower rankings?

“Businesses may rely on these rankings,” says Jennifer Aziz, who graduated from McGill in 2013 with an undergraduate degree in environmental science.

“Perhaps [businesses] choose to fund programs at the higher-ranked schools, meaning the lower ranked schools won’t be getting a piece of that funding, and therefore can’t develop their own programs.”

Aziz says that the highly funded schools may get more applicants who want these specific programs, while lower-ranked schools miss out.

Sibalis, for instance, says she chose Toronto because of the amount of funding the university receives and the volume of research it produces.

Martha Meisner, a Dalhousie institutional analyst, points out that Dal’s ranking has improved. She says in 2013 the school scored between 251 and 275, a division lower than this year. A fact sheet compiled by Meisner shows that Dal shows improvement in all categories the poll uses to establish a ranking.

One is Dal’s international outlook category, which has increased by 20.5 per cent. This means Dal’s ratio of international to domestic staff and students has increased.

Dalhousie student Megan Fenchek is glad to see the improvement, but she believes polls are not the last word on what makes a good university.

“I think it’s all based on how you succeed in the end, not the actual rank of the school,” says Fenchek, who’s in her first year of undergraduate studies and visited many schools before choosing to attend Dal.

“I found U of T and McGill to be quite snooty when I visited,” she says. “Dal is more personable.”