McGill still tops Maclean’s University Rankings for 2017

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

The most prominent university ranking in Canada is Maclean’s Magazine University Ranking and McGill University continues to be the country’s top school. Maclean’s Magazine released their 2017 University Ranking online and as a guidebook on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, where for the 12th straight year McGill University topped the list in the Medical Doctoral category. Simon Fraser University remained number one in the Comprehensive category for the third year in a row; while the University of Northern British Columbia retained the top spot in the Primarily Undergraduate category, while the University of Toronto took the №1 spot in the reputation survey.

The most significant of Maclean’s’ ranking lists is their Medical Doctoral category, focusing on the major research universities. Macleans explains universities in this category include “a medical school and a wide range of research and Ph.D. programs.” McGill again topped the list this year and had retained the number one spot for the past 12 years. McGill was able to beat the competition despite funding problems that have been plaguing the university in the past couple of years.

There was no movement in the top six of the category with Toronto in second, UBC in third, followed by Queen’s in fourth, Alberta in fifth and McMaster Universities in sixth place. There was a lot of movement in the last four spots of the top 10. Dalhousie moved up again from eighth to seventh again. Ottawa moved up from tied for ninth and Western Ontario moved down from seventh to both being tied for eighth. Meanwhile, the University of Calgary moved down one to tenth place.

Maclean’s explains the reason for their three main ranking lists saying they “place universities into three categories to recognize the differences in levels of research funding, the diversity of offerings and the breadth and depth of graduate and professional programs.” Student satisfaction has affected ranking for the major universities that have students that commute, including McGill in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. McGill has a reputation as the Harvard of the North and rightfully keeps its spot as the nation’s best at the top of the Medical Doctoral category.

McGill’s Principal Suzanne Fortier was pleased with Maclean’s ranking results. Fortier issued a statement saying, “Our leading position in scholarships and bursaries in this ranking underscores our commitment to ensuring accessibility to education for all talented students, regardless of their financial means. As we always note, rankings are not an exact science, and different rankings measure different things. But we are proud of the qualities and efforts that have kept us atop the Maclean’s ranking for the past 12 years.”

The Comprehensive category is described as universities “with significant research, undergraduate, and graduate programs as well as professional schools,” but are not as research focused, and do not have Medical schools. This year Simon Fraser University again topped the category for “the third year in a row” and 13 times in the ranking’s history. Only three other schools have ever topped the comprehensive category, the University of Waterloo, which is second, University of Victoria, in third place and the University of Guelph, which is this year’s fourth place school. Most of the top ten remained the same with just some minor movements; the biggest change was last year’s ninth place Ryan University dropping out of the top ten.

The Primarily Undergraduate category features universities who focus on their undergraduate program. University of Northern British Columbia (UNB) remains on top for the second year in a row. Mount Allison University, who had topped the list for eight years until last year when it fell to fourth, rebounded back to second place. Lethbridge University retains the third spot, Trent moves down two to fourth place, and Acadia remains in the same spot rounding out the top five.

The significant changes in the list come in the top ten’s last two spots, Bishop’s University enters the list in ninth place moving three, with Laurentian University moving back into the top ten, up one to tenth place. Leaving the top ten is Lakehead University, which as in ninth place last year and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, which held the tenth place last time.

Macleans’ rankings do not have drastic changes from year to year because of the methodology they use, relying on as the magazine explains, “research funding and university spending don’t vary wildly from year to year, and student and faculty awards, as well as publications and citations, are counted over a five-year period. Twelve of the 14 ranking indicators are derived from data from third-party sources, such as the three major federal granting councils (SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR) and Statistics Canada. The other two indicators are based on a reputational survey and a student survey. These surveys are subjective, and people criticize them-or praise them-for that very reason.”

Macleans’ Reputation Survey is the most controversial lists in their annual rankings, because it is subjective, taking their results from a survey completed by “education and business leaders,” “asking for their views on quality and innovation at Canadian universities.” This year the survey was conducted entirely online. Maclean’s publishes four reputation rankings, Best Overall, Highest Quality, Most Innovative, and Leaders of Tomorrow, with 49 universities represented in all four lists.

Maclean’s Reputation Survey has the University of Toronto again topping the “Best Overall” list, followed by Waterloo moving up to second, then the University of British Columbia falling to third, and McGill falling to fourth. Before last year, Waterloo dominated the list appearing at the top for 19 times. In Highest Quality, Toronto is also on top followed by McGill and Waterloo, with UBC moving down to fourth.

In the Most Innovative, Waterloo again tops the list, with Toronto second and McGill swapping places with UBC for third, and UBC falls to fourth. The Leaders of Tomorrow reputation list had Toronto moving up two to the top spot, followed by UBC remaining second, while former number one Waterloo dropped to third, and McGill remained in fourth place.

Except from some universities changing places in the later part of the top ten, the list remained intact with two exceptions; Universite de Montreal entered the Most Innovative list moving up four to ninth place, while the University of Western Ontario joined the Leaders of Tomorrow reputation list moving up four to eighth place.

Maclean’s shook up their rankings last year adding a student survey called “Students Favorite Schools.” The info compiled produced far different top universities in each of the three categories. Students named Université de Sherbrooke the top Medical Doctoral University, the Wilfrid Laurier University, the top in the Comprehensive category, and Bishop’s University remained the top Primarily Undergraduate University. The survey asked students about “course instructors, student life staff and administrative staff” and added two additional questions this year on “academic advising staff and experiential learning.”

Maclean’s continued the tradition they started last year to included program rankings, looking at the top 10 universities for each of the ten programs they profiled. The majority of the programs are STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics related and include the following, engineering, geology, psychology, mathematics, environmental science, biology, nursing and computer science programs. Only two programs ranked where outside of STEM subjects, business and education.

Maclean’s new methodology relies more heavily on citations, “Maclean’s worked with Amsterdam-based Elsevier, which operates Scopus, the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature in the world, to assess the number of papers and the impact of professors’ research at Canadian universities.”

Maclean’s three major rankings Medical Doctoral, Comprehensive, and Primarily Undergraduate use the same methodology to determine the lists’ rankings. There are six performance indicators; students and classes account for 20 percent of the grade, Faculty also 20 percent, Resources account for 12 percent, Student Support at 13 percent, Library at 15 percent, and Reputation weighs heavily at 20 percent.

Here is Maclean’s top 10 in their Doctoral-Medical category and includes the university’s 2017 positions:

1 McGill University (1)
2 University of Toronto (3)
3 University of British Columbia (UBC) (3)
4 Queen’s University (4)
5 University of Alberta (5)
6 McMaster University (6)
7 Dalhousie University (8)
8 University of Ottawa (*9)
8 University of Western Ontario (7)
10 University of Calgary (*9)

Comprehensive category’s top 10:

1 Simon Fraser University (1)
2 University of Waterloo (3)
3 University of Victoria (2)
4 University of Guelph (5)
5 Carleton University (4)
6 University of New Brunswick (6)
7 Memorial University (7)
7 York University (7)
9Wilfrid Laurier University (10)
10 Concordia University (10)

Primarily Undergraduate category’s top 10:

1 University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) (2)
2 Mount Allison University (4)
3 Lethbridge University (3)
4 Trent University (2)
5 Acadia University (5)
6 St. Francis Xavier University (5)
7 Saint Mary’s University (5)
8 University of Prince Edward Island (8)
9 Bishop’s University (12)
10 Laurentian University (11)

Maclean’s Reputation Survey top 10

Best Overall University Highest Quality Most Innovative Leaders of Tomorrow
1 Toronto 1 2 1
2 Waterloo 3 1 3
3 UBC 4 4 2
4 McGill 2 3 4
5 Alberta 7 6 5
6 Queen’s 5 7 6
7 McMaster 6 5 7
8 Western 8 9 12
9 Montréal 9 13 8
10 Simon Fraser 11 10 10

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @