To be at the Toronto School of Theology is to be at one of the best centres in the entire world for studying theology and religious studies.
That was the word a few days ago from QS World University Rankings, one of the five most respected surveys of global higher education. It’s the only one that ranks subject areas as well as institutions.
To be precise, QS ranked the University of Toronto situation #8 in the world for this subject area.
Last year we were at #11.
Theology and religion are studied in a number of different units in our University of Toronto context: TST, the Department for the Study of Religion, the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, the Centre for Jewish Studies, the Institute of Islamic Studies, the Department of History, the Department of Sociology ― and many others. QS doesn’t specify how much each of these units contributed to this ranking. In fact, it probably doesn’t have a way of differentiating. The standard registers of scholarly publications, such as Thomson Reuters’ US and Canadian University Science Indicators, don’t typically try to categorize a Toronto author into a particular academic unit. Indeed, quite a number of faculty members teach religion or theological studies in more than one unit.
For QS it doesn’t matter that TST is, strictly speaking, separate from the University of Toronto. It’s enough that we’re part of the ecology. And I think this is the right way for them to evaluate us, although it makes it hard for us to compile pertinent TST-specific data for our self-study reports.
What has brought us into the top ten? And why has our ranking gone up so substantially in the past year?
Let me give some answers about TST’s contribution to this ranking, simply because I can speak more knowledgeably about TST than about our partner units.
QS says that the single most important criterion for its evaluations is an institution’s reputation in its field among peer academics. Among our programs, our doctoral stream probably provides QS with most of its data.
Here are some of the things that I think may have impressed QS about TST. In many of these areas, I think we’ve made progress in recent years.
- Many of our faculty members are leading members of their academic guilds, and many of their publications win awards in their field.
- Many of our faculty members and doctoral students are receiving prestigious competitive grants and fellowships.
- We have a high placement rate of our doctoral graduates — over 80% of them have relevant positions within five years of graduation.
- We’ve become the third largest provider of theological faculty members in North America.
- Our conjoint PhD program is known for its committed, wise, and compassionate supervisors, and our member colleges are highly supportive of their students.
- We offer a diversity of engaging, challenging, and solid graduate courses.
- Our graduate academic administration is effective and efficient.
- Student input is taken seriously. My sense is that student satisfaction is high.
- Our TST Graduate Students' Association, and the graduate students associations of some of our colleges, are well-led by great student leaders, and they sponsor some engaging, very fine extracurricular programming.
- The cohort model of education that we introduced into the doctoral program three years ago has proven its worth. It has helped our students gain a strong sense of identity, community, and mutual support. That helps our reputation too.
- The library system of the University of Toronto, which includes the libraries of our member colleges, is ranked among the three or four best research libraries in North America.
- Graduates can take pride in the imprimatur of the University of Toronto, which confers our PhD degrees conjointly with us.
- The University exercises a vigorous system of quality assurance that helps us keep our sights set on excellence.
The QS ranking tells us that our academic peers around the world hold us in high esteem. We’re flattered and we’re humbled. We’re also challenged, because human experience shows that, as the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1549 put it, “There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so surely established, which (in continuance of time) hath not been corrupted.” Insufficient vigilance, inattention, imprudence, poor leadership, cutting of corners, bad decisions, disharmony, scandal ― these could move us quickly onto a downward slope.
QS has in effect reminded us of where we’ve been, where we’ve come, and how important it is to recommit ourselves to excellence.
~ Alan L. Hayes