Every student knows grading can be an uncomfortable process. It is, however, an instructive one. The Times Higher Education (THE) supplement recently released their annual World University Rankings. The THE is the preeminent standard for many; it uses a rigorous five-index scoring system paired with sophisticated methodology using extensive data collection. Canada, as a whole, performs well, with several universities in the top hundred, such as the University of British Columbia (30th) and McGill University (34th). UVic, however, has been in steady decline for the last four years of rankings. Both its score and its position have been in free-fall. Perhaps the most notable among the different criteria in the THE ranking is the sharp decline in the teaching score for UVic—from 32.9 out of 100 in the 2010-11 rankings to 18.1 out of 100 in 2013-14. This 45 per cent drop in only three years should be a wake-up call for our UVic President Jamie Cassels. Normally, such a change would indicate a shift in priority away from teaching and toward research. Not so here. UVic’s research score went from 48.3 out of 100 in 2010-11 to 28.5 in 2013-14.
How the Times Higher Education arrives at these scores is described in detail on their website. It uses 13 separate indicators with data supplied and certified by the institutions themselves. These indicators are spread across five categories: teaching (30 per cent) which is based on many separate performance indicators such as results from the world’s largest invitation-only academic reputation survey, ratio of doctoral degrees to bachelor’s degrees awarded, and student to teacher ratio; industry income (2.5 per cent) which looks at the university’s ability to aid the industry with innovations and inventions, as well as to what degree businesses are willing to pay the university for research; research and citations (60 per cent) which is based on the number of times a university’s published work is cited by scholars globally; and international outlook (7.5 per cent) which ranks to what degree the university’s academics collaborate with international academics on research projects.
Top-scoring universities are known for their forward-thinking and progressive teaching styles. Harvard University (2nd), for example, established a program this September that offers free tuition to students from low-income families. Harvard’s new program allows high school honours students coming from families that make less than $60 000 (USD) to be considered for financial aid. This step allows accepted students to graduate with minimal student debt. Additionally, Harvard, amongst other high-ranking universities, also allows many of their lectures to be used for free online by anyone seeking to educate themselves. Currently, UVic offers neither of these services. Arguably, Harvard offers these services due to greater funding. This may be true in the aspect of free tuition; there’s no arguing with the fact we are a smaller university, but being a small university doesn’t keep us from offering online services such as courses or podcasts, as the cost would be minimal.
The steep drop in UVic’s THE rank, specifically in our teaching category, gives UVic students a reason to look critically at our university and advocate for change. Changing an institution may seem complicated, but it’s easier than voting with our wallet and just leaving. Many of us go to UVic for different reasons, and to just pick up and leave is complicated. If UVic wants to continue to draw in old and new students, it’s in the administration’s best interest, as well as the interest of students and staff, to take a closer look at how to improve. UVic should act sooner rather than later if the institution doesn’t want to risk students considering the pros and cons of voting with their tuition.