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University, QS: “Montreal better than Toronto”. Classics and Ancient History, Italy first in the world

TORONTO – The new ranking of the “best” universities in the world (we’ll explain the quotation marks later) has been released and McGill University’s primacy in Canada stands out over the University of Toronto: in fact, the Montreal-based university is in 31st place in the ranking world, Toronto at 34th. 

In the QS World University Rankings for 2023, out of nearly 1,500 universities in total, ten Canadian universities made it into the top 250, with three of them in the top 50: the aforementioned McGill and UofT and the University of British Columbia, 47th in rank global. The other Canadians rank between 100 and 250: University of Alberta (110), Universite de Montreal (116), McMaster University (152), University of Waterloo (154), Western University (172), University of Ottawa ( 237), University of Calgary (242).

But who leads the world rankings? Here are the top ten: 1st place Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (USA), 2nd place University of Cambridge in Cambridge (UK), 3rd place Stanford University in Stanford (USA), 4th place University of Oxford in Oxford ( Uk), 5th place Harvard University in Cambridge (Us), 6th place ex aequo California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena (Usa), 6th place ex aequo Imperial College London in London (Uk), 8th place UCL in London (UK), 9th place ETH Zurich in Zurich (Switzerland), 10th place University of Chicago in Chicago (United States).

And the Italians? The one best positioned worldwide is the Politecnico di Milano, in 139th place. The Alma Mater Studiorum of Bologna, mother of all universities (it was founded in 1088 and has never ceased its activities since then), is in 167th place and La Sapienza in Rome is in 171st. But La Sapienza itself holds a world record: it is at the top of the global ranking in the subject “Classics and Ancient History”, with a score of 98.7, as well as first in Italy in two thematic areas: “Arts & Humanities” and “Natural Sciences” , respectively at 41st and 44th place in the world. The novelty of this year’s QS Rankings is also the subject “History of Art”, in which La Sapienza is first in Italy and in 17th place worldwide. “For the third consecutive time – says the rector of La Sapienza University, Antonella Polimeni – the classical studies of La Sapienza have reached the highest podium in the international ranking QS World University Rankings by Subject. The ranking rewards the humanities of our university, including the first place in Italy for Archaeology, History, Library & Information Management and History of Art, a subject introduced this year for the first time”.

One question, however, arises spontaneously: how is it possible that universities such as Scuola Normale Superiore, Sant’Anna and the University of Pisa itself (which have produced students such as Galileo Galilei, Enrico Fermi and Carlo Rubbia, just to name three random) do not appear not even in the top 250 places? And in any case, more generally, how is it possible that Italian universities (so many: we have only mentioned those from Pisa as examples of the numerous excellences) are so low in the rankings, when it is well known, among students, that to pass the exams in any North American university, it’s enough 1/3, or perhaps 1/5, of the preparation necessary for pass the same exams in Italy? The answer is simple and it lies in the parameters used to elaborate the QS World University Rankings, which are: academic reputation (the quality of teaching and research), “employer reputation” (how institutions prepare students for careers successful), faculty/student ratio, citations of the University in articles and academic texts, ability of the University to attract international students. No analysis, therefore, of the amount of knowledge to be learned in order to pass the exams: in a word, not a word about the difficulty of a University and therefore of the selection that the same university makes during the students’ academic career. Basically, according to the philosophy of the QS World University Rankings, an “easy” but more “in sight” University in terms of citations, teachers’ fame and international reputation is better. How to say: “best”, yes, in form. But not in substance.

Pic by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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