Brandon University rises one spot in annual Maclean’s national rankings

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Brandon University has nudged up one spot in the annual rankings of Canadian universities conducted by Maclean’s magazine. The rankings once again identify many of BU’s strengths in the raw data, value other strengths in ways that differ from BU, and fail to fully credit BU’s strengths as a regionally focused institution.

“This year, especially, we haven’t paid much attention to national rankings. We have been keeping our attention where it matters most: here at home, supporting our community, our students, and our region as we grapple together through the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic,” said BU President Dr. David Docherty. “The plain fact is that all Canadian universities are excellent. These scores are a bit like ranking the roundest eggs in the carton.”

This year, Brandon University is ranked 17th overall in the Primarily Undergraduate category. That’s one spot up from last year, which was a tie for 18th overall. Maclean’s cites BU’s great student-to-faculty ratio, excellent library and student supports, and high number of grants in social sciences and humanities research as particular bright spots. In fact, BU ranks second overall for its investment in student services.

However, in other areas, Maclean’s once again penalizes BU for choosing to value different priorities.

“Brandon University is one of the top three institutions in the country for welcoming students who struggled in high school. We see that as a tremendous strength, both as an investment in these students and as a source of opportunity for our region,” Docherty said. “We don’t turn our back on any Westman students.”

At the same time, nearly 30 per cent of new BU students come with a high school average in the 90s.

“This is higher proportion than many universities, and it shows that top students choose BU,” Docherty said, although he noted that many of those students eventually transfer to finish their degrees with specialized programs that aren’t options here.

“Graduation rates just don’t tell the whole story. We’re proud to be a university that values access and flexibility, so we can help students take the time they need to complete their degree, even if it is beyond some arbitrary cut-off. And many of our students come to BU for pre-professional programs, then transfer to complete their degree elsewhere. They may not graduate here, but they still get an excellent BU education and they go on to be great successes.”

Other areas where BU is penalized include rankings that are based on raw budget numbers, which don’t account for BU’s affordability, including low tuition rates and Brandon’s lower cost of living.

“Two areas we really do want to take a look at are our student satisfaction scores and our national reputation,” Docherty said. “National reputation is tough, and we focus more on our Brandon reputation and our Manitoba reputation. We’re also just a little too modest. But we have a lot to be proud of, and we need to shout about it more.”

The Maclean’s student satisfaction rankings, which are based on surveys of current students, also concern him.

“We have excellent student support resources, and a fantastic number of faculty, so we have the social amenities and small class sizes that make a difference, but our students aren’t ranking us as highly as other institutions’ students do. Why?” Docherty asked. “One answer might be that BU students are just more cautious in filling out their surveys. Very few students can make a direct comparison between their BU experience and what it’s like at some other university.”

After students do graduate, satisfaction scores are excellent.

“Our post-graduation surveys show that 98 per cent of grads recommend BU. That is a number we’re proud of,” Docherty said. “And we also find that students who go on to another university come back to tell us ‘Wow, I didn’t realize how great Brandon University was until I had something else to compare it to.’”

“But it may also be that we need to adjust our supports to better meet student needs,” he acknowledged. “We are continuing to invest in new options and new supports, including our recent mental wellness app.”

In general, he said, the data shows that BU is quietly doing quite well, although the rankings indicate there is always room for improvement.

“We are lucky to live in a country where access to quality education is so widely dispersed,” Docherty said. “We find ourselves in an area that’s somewhat unfairly under-supported and overlooked, and we’re going to continue to dig in and do the hard work of supporting our students, building our community, and investing in opportunity that makes a difference right here at home.”


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