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‘We have our work cut out for us’: Laurentian president speaks on university’s poor Maclean’s ranking

He says many of this year’s rankings are from metrics measured before LU declared insolvency 

Laurentian University president Robert Haché has spoken out about the university’s poor showing in this year’s Maclean’s Magazine university rankings amid LU’s insolvency restructuring.

Last year, Laurentian ranked 12th out of the 20 universities in the primarily undergraduate category. That ranking has now slipped to 15th place.

But Haché said in a written report presented to the university’s senate last week that this year’s rankings are related to historic challenges at Laurentian, and not entirely due to LU’s filing under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).

“Many will see the decline in ranking as a reflection of the university’s current journey through CCAA,” Haché said, in the report.

“However, it is very important for the community to understand that overall low ranking in Laurentian’s Maclean's rankings over the past few years — as well as a significant part of the decline for this year, are a reflection of Laurentian’s ingrained and longstanding historic challenges — as we have discussed in this very senate in each of the past two years since I have taken on my role.”

Maclean’s has also released its rankings of Canada’s best universities by reputation, following a survey of university faculty and senior administrators, as well as a variety of businesspeople across the country.

Laurentian is ranked dead last (19th) for reputation among primarily undergraduate universities — it ranked 15th in that category last year. It also ranked dead last (19th) for student satisfaction this year (it also ranked 19th in that category last year).

The university’s best Maclean’s ranking this year was for total research dollars, where it ranked in first place among primarily undergraduate universities, as it did last year. 

Laurentian’s Maclean’s rankings also dropped in scholarships and bursaries from 10th last year to 14th this year, and in student services from 10th last year to 17th this year.

There were actually some areas of improvement for Laurentian in the Maclean’s rankings.

Last year, the student/faculty ratio was ranked at 11th place, and it’s 9th this year. Faculty awards were at 5th place last year, and are now at 4th place. 

Haché explained in his report that all but two of the data sets that drive the Maclean’s rankings are derived from data that are “slipped” by at least one year (i.e. 2020 or before). 

He said the student satisfaction survey is current and was launched on Feb. 25 of this year, immediately following Laurentian’s CCAA filing. Laurentian is uncertain of exactly when in the fall/winter of 20/21 the reputational survey was conducted, Haché said.

However, he said the current restructuring of the university, when successfully completed, “will offer both an opportunity and a springboard for Laurentian to rise in rankings such as Maclean’s.

“The goal of the restructuring is for Laurentian to emerge as a nimble, financially sustainable institution with the ability to make the investments needed to improve most areas, from the academic quality of our programs, to student services, to academic and administrative process. “In restructuring, Laurentian is focusing on its core as an academically strong primarily undergraduate university, delivering high quality programs across the faculties of Arts, Management, Health and Education, and Science Engineering and Architecture.

“We offer a bilingual and tricultural experience that is ‘sans pareil’ in Canada. We are focused on serving the needs of students from Northeastern Ontario and beyond. Working together, I truly believe that we will have the tools and resources necessary to build national recognition for what we have to offer -- recognition that will see Laurentian rise in rankings such as Maclean’s in the years to come.”

Haché said that despite Laurentian’s strong performance with respect to post-graduate employment for graduates, “student satisfaction and experience is one of the areas that the university has experienced historical challenges and must address.”

He said one of the areas that an upcoming operational and governance review of the university will consider is in the area of student support and the operational structures that support the student experience and student success.

“We encourage the Laurentian community, including students and student groups to engage in this process, so that the recommendations that will be brought forward and implemented will be best positioned to meet student needs,” he said.

Haché said he also recognizes that Laurentian’s commitment to students goes beyond what is measured by Maclean’s rankings “and for us, success is about supporting students in their own paths and own versions of success.”

He went on to mention initiatives including advancing women’s leadership opportunities through its support of the student-led Laurentian University Women in Sport programming. 

Laurentian also celebrates a diverse student population through cultural events, International Education Week, and programming through the Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre (ISLC). 

“We embrace being a place of growth, with 52 per cent of students who are the first in their family to attend post-secondary, many of them from Indigenous and Francophone communities,” Haché said.

“Student Associations, the AEF, SGA, and GSA, continue to support students in meaningful ways to enhance the Laurentian student experience.

“We have our work cut out for us. We are all committed to student success and to continue to further develop student-centred practices and support services that contribute to the educational and career goals of Laurentian University students.”