UBC denies fudging Maclean’s stats
By Dan Perry
The annual Maclean’s university rankings have developed
a reputation as an authority on university education in Canada,
but how much can they be trusted?
A report in yesterday’s National Post claimed internal
documents from the University of British Columbia revealed
the way the school tinkered with its data to manipulate the
However, UBC’s director of public affairs, Scott Macrae,
denied the Post’s allegations that the university had
manipulated class size statistics specifically to increase
their standing, saying that although there were discussions
of setting lower class size caps, no such action was taken.
“UBC did not manipulate data,” he said. “We
don’t need the Maclean’s survey to tell us some
of our classes are larger than we’d like them to be.
“Smaller classes are required for academic reasons — if
we can manage that within our resources, we create smaller
classes. If those improvements increase our Maclean’s
ranking, that’s a bonus,” Macrae added.
Maclean’s editor-at-large Ann Dowsett Johnston, who
has operated the magazine’s ranking process in its current
form since 1992, told The Gazette that the survey is too methodologically
sturdy to be co-opted by clever university reporting practices.
“We ask for the information and we work very hard with
a large group of admirable people. These are publicly funded
institutions and I believe they are reporting responsibly,” she
said, adding the universities are ranked on a complex series
of 20 indicators. “No one indicator can unduly affect
“I think universities are extraordinarily complex places,
and with the funding challenges universities are facing, universities
are trying to offer what they can to help students,” Dowsett
Johnston said, adding it is natural to expect some schools
to have become alert as to how the criteria work.
University Students’ Council VP-education Dave Ford
said many problems in the ranking system lie in the misrepresentations
“For one, the big problem is [the Maclean’s ranking]
forces universities to compete, often times artificially representing
the quality they can provide — and it diverts attention
away from the major problems. They’re not talking about
deferred maintenance, class sizes or faculty shortages,” he
“Universities are doing all they can to manipulate the
figures in order to compete in the Maclean’s rankings.
It creates a tension between talking about actual issues at
universities and presenting a glossy image,” Ford added.
Dowsett Johnston defended the rankings, saying they are, in
fact, in the best interests of the students. “We’re
trying to be alert to what has been asked in the rankings — our
position is that we ask for this information for the benefit
of students and parents.”