Measures of Success

Principal’s Perspective

Like you, I beam when McGill receives high praise. When Maclean’s magazine ranks your alma mater as the top Medical-Doctoral university in Canada, it’s a moment to celebrate. And when London’s Times Higher Education Supplement names McGill as one of the top 25 universities in the world, we take a moment to appreciate the news.

But as Einstein said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.” Performance indicators help us in numerous ways, but rankings tell only part of the story.

Universities are complex and distinctive institutions, each one with its own special characteristics and programs, strengths and weaknesses. No single measure could ever accurately reflect the quality or character of a university, where hundreds of professors and lecturers teach a broad array of courses across disciplines as varied as medicine, law, engineering and music, and where students come from diverse backgrounds, from across Canada and around the world. Like any university, McGill – distinctive in its international character and its Canadian values and history – cannot and should not be summed up in a single score, or even multiple ones.

While the Times Higher Education Supplement places McGill in the world’s top 25, the other global ranking of universities, published by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, places the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia ahead of us. Why?

The Shanghai system gives special weight to large universities (McGill, by these standards, is medium-sized) and, on the staff presence of a Nobel Prize winner (Canada currently has only two Nobel laureates who work and reside in Canada, one at the U of T, and the other recently hired from the United States by UBC).

In other rankings, McGill takes the lead. McGill is Canada’s most research-intensive university. Our professors win more research grants on a per-faculty basis in competitions than those at any other university in Canada. That is why McGill is once again at the top of the Research Infosource research competitiveness rankings.

Similarly, when it comes to attracting the smartest students, McGill is tops in Canada, with an average entering grade of 88.9%. Ditto for Rhodes scholarships and other distinguished prizes awarded to students. And our reputation around the world is in a league of its own.

At McGill, we are proud that we are consistently ranked among the very best in the world, but we are not content to let others set the bar. We set our own very high standards, academic plans and indicators against which we measure our progress, in order to make McGill an even better place.

The Principal’s Task Force on Student Life and Learning aims to create the optimal environment in which undergraduate as well as graduate and professional students can benefit fully from the research-rich environment in which they learn. We recruit the very best students and professors, enriching the student experience and building on areas of academic excellence in teaching and research in the neurosciences, music, environmental sciences, international law, human rights, engineering design, among many important fields.

We are doing more to support students, reduce red tape, provide better counselling and advising. We are doing more to enable them to take full advantage of our wonderful location in Montreal, as well as of our study abroad and exchange programs. We want every student to experience the thrill of intellectual discovery. For that reason, we have established programs that enable students to work side-by-side with professors on research and scholarly initiatives.

By any measure, McGill boasts excellence across the board. And our many successes must be sustained. And, while we depend on effective levels of public investment, we could not achieve McGill’s levels of excellence without the private support that alumni and friends offer – these are critical to our success.

The recognition we earn – in rankings and awards, and indeed, in the record levels of the private support that we receive – are but a by-product of our mission and dedication to high standards in research, teaching, service and student support.

This fall, a new wave of university rankings will emerge. Yes, it is my hope that McGill will continue to excel in each one. More important, however, is that we continue to make a powerful difference as we move forward with our mission, positively transforming the lives of our students and advancing knowledge for a better Canada and a better world. For me, that’s the number one spot that counts.

HEATHER MUNROE-BLUM

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