Vancouver’s QS World University Ranking isn’t all that it seems

Score indicators are highly subjective and may not reflect actual student values

Vancouver has a suspiciously high ranking considering its affordability issues. Illustration: Anthony Liao/The Peak

By: Nicole Magas, Opinions Editor

Vancouver’s grades are in and it has been given a mark of 71.6% as a student city by the QS World University Ranking system, which is an annual publication of global university rankings. That’s a solid B- by the standard of most SFU departments. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. Which is why it’s so mind-boggling that Vancouver managed to place 16th out of 120 other international cities by QS.

It’s not that I don’t believe Vancouver has merit. It’s absolutely a beautiful, vibrant, and dynamic city to be in — especially if you have the money to enjoy it. But that’s just the point: since the coming of the 2010 Olympic Games, Vancouver seems to have been on a mission to aggressively price out lower-income individuals in an attempt to claw its way to international metropolitan status. As of this year, Vancouver is the second most unaffordable city in the world behind Hong Kong. This statistic leaves room for students to wonder how this situation doesn’t drag Vancouver’s QS ranking to the bottom of the sea.

To be fair, the QS ranking does take affordability into account. Vancouver received a 50/100 for this metric, and the only thing shocking about that number is that it’s not lower. What is perhaps more surprising is that Vancouver’s “university ranking” score — the average of the scores of the individual universities within Vancouver — of 46/100 is what dragged its overall score down the most (shout out to SFU for that contribution). 

The problem is that QS weighs each of the categories it uses to rank cities equally, even if the indicators within categories are not. So affordability (within which tuition costs are given the highest weight, above even the cost of living) is weighted the same as student mix, which measures the relative diversity of the student population. 

Arguably, the weights between categories are set equally because the importance of each category (students’ opinions, university rankings, student diversity, desirability, employment prospects, and affordability) is subjective. However, it becomes apparent how Vancouver’s ranking could be skewed when a 92 for diversity is given equal consideration as a 50 for affordability. 

And it’s in subjectivities that the QS ranking system loses its relative usefulness to students, schools, cities, and anyone else with a stake in identifying where is best to study. While subjectivity is smoothed out in the equal weighting between categories, it plays a significant role in the weighting of indicators within categories. Someone had to subjectively decide that the Economist Livability Index would be weighted higher than both the safety and pollution scores combined to determine overall desirability

What would paint a better picture of student city rankings at an individual level would be to allow users to create their own weights — possibly by including a sliding scale of importance for each category and the indicators within categories. At best, the current QS rankings score is only an evaluation of what the survey takers themselves view to be the top cities in the world to study in, not necessarily how students themselves perceive these cities. 

Students using this ranking system as a basis for decision making should take Vancouver’s 16th place ranking with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of good things going on in this city, but they may not be the sort of qualities that are most important to you.