Sociology Assistant Professor Jayne Baker was recently featured in an article by UTM’s student newspaper The Medium, discussing the Times Higher Education ranking for the University of Toronto. The article explored what criterion are taken into account to determine university ranking and what the rankings mean to the UofT community. Professor Baker, who researches the sociology of education, gave insight into what the University rankings mean and what social factors (such as socioeconomic background of students) may influence a University’s success.
We have posted an excerpt of the article below.
What does it really mean to be No. 1?
U of T is ranked number 1 in Canada and the 22nd in the world by Times Higher Education rankings
Jessica Cabral | Sept. 18, 2017
In the recently published Times Higher Education 2018 university ranking, the University of Toronto placed 22nd out of the top 1,000 universities in the world and preserved their standing as the highest ranked Canadian university for the eighth consecutive year. Tied in position with the National University of Singapore, U of T continues to maintain a comfortable spot among some of the world’s highest ranked post-secondary institutions. But, what kind of relevance do these university rankings hold? What, if anything, do they tell us about the quality of the learning experience?
“Rankings are a funny thing, in that they are popular to discuss, especially when you’re at the top, but are sometimes taken to signify more than what is actually being measured,” says Jayne Baker, an assistant professor in the department of sociology at UTM, in an email to The Medium. “Rankings are commonly used as evidence of institutional prestige. However, I think we could all agree that many institutions with high rankings would continue to be prestigious were those rankings not to exist at all.”
As an example, Baker explains that regardless of the presence of yearly university rankings, American Ivy League institutions, known for frequently landing top positions across national and international ranking systems, would continue to maintain their distinguished reputations among employers, provide their students with optimal employment opportunities, and produce powerful leaders because of their established history and selective admissions processes.
“Another important factor to acknowledge is that these are institutions that have historically, and to this day, accepted students from wealthier backgrounds,” says Baker.
Having learnt from published research in the sociology of education, Baker explains that children from families with “higher socioeconomic status” are “associated with better educational outcomes and more advantageous social networks”. Later in life, these factors ultimately contribute to the individual’s success in obtaining a career and their pursuit of education beyond an undergraduate degree.
Baker notes however that, “the interesting thing about Canada is that our university system is not marked by the kind of steep hierarchy among institutions like you’d find in the United States.”
If institutional history and household wealth play integral roles in developing the high status of American Ivy League schools, what then are the factors that the THE take into consideration?