Ranking Our Impact

Nov 4, 2014

Dean WhitesideFall is the time to reflect on the scope and impact of our research activity. We hosted the Gairdner Awards Symposia last week, a celebration of Canada's top biomedical scientists. Next week, we will host the annual Research Awards reception, celebrating the outstanding work of our own faculty members.

This is also when university global rankings are published, which — depending on the particular ranking — help to evaluate the impact of our research. We monitor four of these closely: the Times Higher Education, the Quacquarelli Symonds,  the Academic Ranking of World Universities and the National Taiwan University Rankings. For the general public, these numbers help distinguish the outstanding from the good. For those of us in academia, rankings challenge us to constantly collect data and measure our performance. The University of Toronto submits data to two international systems: Times Higher Education and Quacquarelli Symonds. Two other notable rankings, however, (Academic Ranking of World Universities and the National Taiwan University Rankings) are entirely based on third-party data sources. Reputational rankings produced by other organizations are less relevant as they are based on little more than the personal opinions of survey respondents.

The University of Toronto performs well on all four of these international ranking systems. We score well on quantitative and qualitative measures and remain significantly ahead of all other Canadian research-intensive universities. Of particular note, the National Taiwan University Rankings that focus exclusively on research performance rank the University of Toronto 3rd worldwide (after Harvard and Johns Hopkins) in the Clinical Medicine category in 2014. This reflects our performance over the last decade in health and biomedical research — a great tribute to the excellence of our faculty and students engaged in research.

As academics, we are inclined to be a little skeptical in our evaluation of rankings. Performance in an aggregated ranking can vary considerably depending on the metrics used and the methodology for evaluation. Our relatively stable performance over the past few years is often interpreted as good news. However, it is very evident that some nations such as China — are making strategic investments in higher education, while Canada’s funding has remained flat. As a result, we are watching some international institutions begin to outpace us in these rankings. 

In order to maintain our good standing and improve it over time, we must continue to advocate for a differentiated system that focuses on selected institutions nation-wide as world-class research-intensive centres. Enabling universities to set and pursue a differentiation agenda is critical to the continued success of Canadian postsecondary education.

There is encouraging movement on this front, with the University’s recent Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. The SMA is clear in its emphasis on a differentiation policy framework, naming health and biomedicine as a growth area at U of T over the next three years.  In many ways, this is an endorsement of our work and recognition of its value. With the support of government, we can capitalize on the tremendous talent in U of T Medicine and remain internationally competitive. This is as important for Ontario and Canada, as it is for U of T.

Such a focus requires corresponding funding in order to be fruitful; our task is to capitalize on this and push ourselves forward as an elite health and biomedical research enterprise. With the collective strength of our Toronto Academic Health Science Network partners, the Faculty of Medicine offers a unique value proposition to the Canadian — and international — higher education landscape.

Catharine Whiteside
Dean, Faculty of Medicine
Vice-Provost, Relations with Health Care Institutions

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