In 2004 the University of Calgary was ranked dead last out of 46 participating schools in the first Maclean's graduate survey. This year won't be a repeat performance, because this time around the U of C isn't participating.
The U of C, along with the University of Alberta, the University of Lethbridge and about half of the 48 other Canadian schools Maclean's invited to participate in the graduate survey declined, citing a host of reasons including inaccurate research methods and results that do not reflect the experiences of current undergraduates.
The Maclean's University Student issue hits stands Mon., June 19 and focuses solely on the undergraduate experience of students, unlike the larger University Ranking issue, which comes out in November and focuses on all aspects of the university. The survey asks 1,333 graduates each from 2002, 2003 and 2004 to rate their experiences, for a total of 4,000 students from each university. Questions include rating the quality of instruction and the learning environment.
U of C administration disagrees with the method Maclean's uses.
"The data are four years out of date since they were published," said U of C vice-president external relations Roman Cooney. "In the last few years we've put millions of dollars into the undergraduate experience."
Cooney noted new projects such as increased entrance awards and bursaries, student space redevelopments and the $1.4 million in quality money given to the Students' Union last year will not be reflected in a survey of recent graduates.
Cooney said all three Alberta universities do their own student surveys, which he believes are more accurate than the Maclean's methods, and better reflect recent investments into post-secondary education.
In March, the U of C joined with the U of A and the U of L to meet with Maclean's editorial staff and voice their concerns. During this meeting, Alberta's universities also requested that Maclean's survey current undergraduate students, rather than recent graduates. Maclean's refused.
"The three Alberta universities talked about it and met with Maclean's a couple of months ago," said Cooney. "They were receptive in the sense that they heard our arguments. We think the onus is on Maclean's to ensure their data gathering is accurate."
All three schools plan to provide data from their own surveys for publication in the University Student issue, but Maclean's managing editor of special projects Tony Keller, said the universities offered to do so only under duress.
"The schools that did not participate said there are other surveys which are more useful to them and we said we would be happy to publish that material too," said Keller. "Many of them were resistant to release that data."
According to University of Lethbridge President Dr. Bill Cade, Maclean's used the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to access the university surveys for publication in the June 19 issue. FOIP allows individuals in Alberta to request any record in the custody or under the control of a public body.
"They've done it through FOIP, but we're happy to make it public," said Cade. "Prior to now [our graduate survey] was used internally by the university. There is so much information out there already, and [the Maclean's survey] did not seem to be accurate."
According to Keller, almost all of the approximately 23 schools not participating in the Maclean's survey will provide their own student survey data for publication.
Despite this, Keller said he is disappointed so many schools decided not to participate. He hoped the Maclean's graduate survey would provide a standardized pan-Canadian survey, which would be more useful to students and potential students than the host of different surveys the schools conduct internally.
"It's really a loss for students, potential students and their parents," said Keller.
Keller disputes the Alberta universities' claim that the Maclean's survey would not reflect current student experience, and added recent grads actually tend to rate their university experience more favourably than current students.
"Recent grads tend to have a slightly different perspective because they can look back at their experience," said Keller. "When you see comparable questions, the scores are generally higher when you're out of university."
U of C Students' Union vice-president academic Shannon O'Connor said the Maclean's survey would be convenient for students seeking information, but also needs to be accurate.
"I like it when [survey results] are public in Maclean's because it is one central place for students to go that is really easy to access," said O'Connor. "But, it's equally important for them to have accurate information."
Cade said the U of L will participate in the November Maclean's University Ranking issue, but Cooney said the U of C has not yet made a decision.