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Ratings rankle school officials

Manitoba universities go on defensive

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Manitoba's three universities will have to increase research grants, win more awards and spend more money on bursaries, student services and libraries if they want to move up in the annual Maclean's magazine ranking of post-secondary institutions.

The University of Manitoba, the province's biggest university, once again ranked 15th -- or dead last -- in the "medical doctoral" category. This is the ninth-straight year the U of M has been at the bottom of the rankings. McGill defended its top spot in the category from last year.

The University of Winnipeg placed 13th among primarily undergraduate universities, down from 10th a year ago, while Brandon University was ranked 16th, down one spot. Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., took the top ranking again in that category.

Mary Dwyer, Maclean's senior editor of university rankings, said while the Manitoba schools' overall scores didn't show any improvement from last year, it's important to look at the 14 different performance measurements the magazine considers. For example, the U of M placed third in spending on student services, second on spending on libraries and seventh in terms of student-faculty ratio.

The U of W, meanwhile, placed fourth out of 19 schools in reputation and on spending on student services and sixth on medical science grants.

Brandon University ranked third in spending on libraries, second on library holdings per student and fifth on student-faculty ratio.

"All of the universities in our rankings are solid. Just because a university hasn't performed well on an (particular) indicator, doesn't mean they performed badly," Dwyer said.

John Danakas, director of marketing and communications at the U of M, said he doesn't believe there's much value in attaching a number to various schools when the raw data isn't released at the same time.

"The difference between No. 1 and No. 2 or No. 1 and No. 15, is never disclosed by Maclean's, that's why we think it's unfair to rank them. You can't find a difference in the overall score," he said.

The important thing, he noted, is there are 15 universities in Canada that have medical schools, offer doctoral programs and are research-intensive and the U of M is one of them.

"We're fortunate in Canada to have universities of a very high standard. They'll all of a very high calibre, which is why Canada is able to attract so many international students," he said.

Deborah Poff, president of Brandon University, said her team held a quick debriefing after the rankings were released Thursday morning.

Every year, they work on improving various aspects of the university, but others they'll leave as they are, even if changing them might mean a higher ranking.

"We've known for a few years that we need to have some more graduate programs. That's strategically important for us in recruiting and we'd be more successful in research grants," she said.

Access to education is another priority, she said, so BU accepts some students with lower grade-point averages that other schools would reject.

"We wouldn't change that even if it changed our position at Maclean's. It's part of the mission and mandate here," she said.

The U of W overall ranking was hurt by its growing student body, which has reduced its per-student funding in its operating budget, said Jeremy Read, the school's senior executive officer.

But its constantly improving reputation had faculty and students alike walking a little taller Thursday, he said.

"We're generally seen as an institution that's innovative and is on the move. We're connecting with the private sector and employers," he said.

Danakas said he doesn't believe the Maclean's rankings are terribly meaningful to students when they decide where to pursue their education. What could have more impact is the regular recognition received by U of M faculties such as nursing, pharmacy, law, medicine, engineering and business.

"Our students and professors fare quite well when put up against their peers," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 A10

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