York ranked among the top 300 universities in the world

York is once again one of the world’s top 300 universities, according to the Times Higher Education – QS World University Rankings 2008, published Monday. 

But placing 252nd out of a total of 500 this year is only part of the good news. York can be even prouder of ranking 53rd in social sciences and 70th in arts & humanities, two areas where this University has traditionally excelled. 

“We’re clearly well known and regarded,” says Sheila Embleton (right), York’s vice-president academic & provost. The THE – QS ranking focuses heavily on the opinions of thousands of international academics and recruiters. “In the end it is what people think, it is reputation that counts so much.”  

The THE – QS survey is one of two major international rankings that publish top-500 lists of tertiary institutions around the globe. The other is Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universitiies. The THE – QS survey is based on research and reputation, and the Shanghai, on science and engineering. In the past two years, York has made them both. 

“However you cut it, we are in the elite of universities in the world,” says Adrian Shubert (left), York’s associate vice-president international. “This ranking just confirms what I hear when I travel. People know about York because of our research and reputation. People out in the world look at these, despite all the caveats about rankings,” he says. “These things matter.” 

Neither Shubert nor Embleton is surprised that York ranks in the top 100 in social sciences and arts & humanities, both soon to be housed mainly under the umbrella of the new Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “We always say these are our strengths,” says Embleton. “Here’s some proof.” 

Shubert identifies history, his own field, as one of York’s particular strengths in arts & humanities, and psychology (part of the Faculty of Health) as one in social sciences. In both the humaniities and social sciences, "we are indisputably world class," he says. "As we move toward diversifying the University, it’s crucial we remember what gives us our international reputation.” 

Not surprisingly, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford placed top in the THE – QS ranking. Out of 20 Canadian universities that made the list, York came 15th. Five placed in the top 100 – McGill (No. 20) and the universities of British Columbia (34), Toronto (41), Alberta (74) and Montreal (91). 

The THE – QS scores universities based on six indicators.  A hefty 40 per cent of the score is based on reputation, determined by an academic peer survey. This year more than 6,300 academic experts responded to the online survey, which asked them to rank in five categories – arts & humanities, engineering & information technology, life sciences & biomedicine, natural sciences and social sciences. The rest of the score is based on faculty-student ratio (20 per cent); citations per faculty member (20 per cent); employer surveys – those who hire graduates – (10 per cent); international faculty (five per cent); and international students (five per cent).

Achieving such high ranking especially in arts & humanities and social sciences can only do York good, suggests Embleton. “Once you start to get a reputation, it is easier to spiral upwards.” This will only help York achieve its goal, stated in the University Plan, to boost its reputation, she says.

The rankings will have little impact on how many international students York attracts, as the University accepts only a limited number. However, York’s ranking performance could raise the cut-off threshold and draw international students with higher grades, suggests Embleton.

Shubert says he prefers the methodology of the THE – QS ranking over that of Maclean’s Canadian universities ranking. Maclean’s, he says, scores research based on the funding its receives rather than on how often it is cited and how much others know about it, which matter more, he says.

There are about 30,000 universities in the world, 4,000 in the United States alone.