by Mary Dwyer
October 12, 2023

Maclean’s University Rankings 2024: Our Methodology

(Photograph courtesy of the University of Windsor)

Maclean’s annual university rankings continue a tradition established in 1991: to provide essential information in a comprehensive package to help students choose the university that best suits their needs. 

Maclean’s puts universities into three categories, recognizing the differences in types of institutions, levels of research funding, diversity of offerings, and breadth and depth of graduate and professional programs. Primarily Undergraduate universities tend to be smaller and have fewer graduate programs and graduate students. Universities in the Comprehensive category have a significant degree of research activity and a wide range of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including professional degrees. Medical Doctoral universities offer a broad range of Ph.D. programs and research; all universities in this category have medical schools.

In each category, Maclean’s ranks institutions in five broad areas based on 12 performance indicators, allocating a weight to each indicator. Figures for the ranked universities include data from their federated and affiliated institutions. The magazine does not rank schools with fewer than 1,000 full-time students, those that are restrictive because of a religious or specialized mission, newly designated universities, or those that are not members of the national association Universities Canada. This year, Maclean’s is ranking Algoma University for the first time as enrolment has consistently surpassed 1,000 full-time students in recent years.

The rankings use the most recent and publicly available data. Statistics Canada provides numbers on faculty and student enrolment as well as data for total research income and five financial indicators: operating budget, spending on student services, scholarships and bursaries, library expenses and acquisitions. Financial figures are for fiscal year 2021–22; student numbers are for 2020; faculty numbers are for 2021. Data for the social sciences and humanities research grants indicator and the medical-science research grants indicator are for fiscal year 2022–23, and were obtained directly from the three major federal granting agencies: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). In addition, Maclean’s collects information on dozens of student and faculty awards from 50 organizations and conducts a reputational survey, canvassing the opinions of university faculty and senior administrators as well as a variety of business people across the country. 

Maclean’s weights the rankings as follows.


(20 per cent of final score)

Maclean’s collects data on the success of students at winning national academic awards (weighted 10 per cent) over the previous five years. The count includes such prestigious awards as Rhodes scholarships and Fulbrights, as well as scholarships from professional associations and the three federal granting agencies. Each university’s total of student awards is divided by its number of full-time students, yielding a per-student count.

To gauge students’ access to professors, Maclean’s measures the number of full-time-equivalent students per full-time faculty member (10 per cent). This student-­faculty ratio includes graduate and undergraduate students.


(20 per cent)

Maclean’s calculates the number of faculty who have won major awards over the past five years, including the Killam, Molson and Steacie prizes, the Royal Society of Canada awards, the 3M Teaching Fellowships, and more than 30 other award programs (eight per cent). To scale for institution size, the award count for each university is divided by its number of full-time faculty.

In addition, the magazine measures the success of faculty in securing research grants from SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR. Maclean’s takes into account both the number and the dollar value received in the previous year, and divides the totals by each institution’s full-time faculty count. Research grants are reported by how many are awarded to the primary investigator on a project. Social sciences and humanities grants (six per cent) and medical-science grants (six per cent) are tallied as separate indicators. 


(22 per cent)

This section calculates the amount of money in the general operating budget per full-time-equivalent student (five per cent). Students are weighted according to their level of study—bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate—and their program of study.

To broaden the scope of the research picture, Maclean’s also measures total research dollars (eight per cent). This figure, calculated relative to the size of each institution’s full-time faculty, includes income from sponsored research, such as grants and contracts; federal, provincial and foreign government funding; and funding from non-governmental organizations.

Libraries are an important resource for students. Maclean’s measures the percentage of a university’s operating budget allocated to library services (five per cent) and the percentage of the library budget spent on acquisitions, including electronic resources (four per cent).

Student support 

(18 per cent)

To evaluate the support available to students, Maclean’s examines the percentage of the budget spent on student services (nine per cent), as well as scholarships and bursaries (nine per cent). Expenditures are measured as they are reported to the Canadian Association of University Business Officers.


(20 per cent)

For the reputational survey, Maclean’s solicits the views of people who are in a position to form opinions about how well universities are meeting the needs of students, and how ready their graduates are to embark on successful careers. In an online survey, we asked faculty and senior administrators at Canadian universities, as well as a variety of business people across the country, to rate Canada’s universities in three areas: Highest Quality, Most Innovative and Leaders of Tomorrow. Best Overall represents the sum of the scores for all three. When completing the reputational survey, university faculty and senior administrators also complete a regional component that divides the country into four key regions: the western provinces, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. This allows them to focus on the region they know best.