Society and Culture

U of A’s world-leading expertise highlighted in latest global subject rankings

Sports-related subjects and petroleum engineering rank among the world’s top 10, while nursing continues surge.

  • March 03, 2021
  • By Michael Brown

Sports-related subjects and petroleum engineering bolstered a strong University of Alberta showing in the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject, which also included eight subjects in the top 50 and a continued surge in the area of nursing.

The 2021 version of the leading subject rankings saw the U of A land in the top 10 of sports-related subjects (9th) for the fifth consecutive year, and petroleum engineering (9th) in back-to-back years. As well, the U of A held steady at 11th in the area of mining and minerals engineering, while leaping four spots to 14th in nursing, which entered back into the top 20 last year.

Greta Cummings, dean of the Faculty of Nursing and incoming dean of the College of Health Sciences, said the U of A’s strength in nursing stems from a renewed focus on research and excellence in teaching.

She said a number of research programs have come into their own, led by growing leadership in the area of immigrant health, and a long-standing excellence in research on aging, from aging well at home to improving quality of care in nursing homes across the country.

“This includes a lot of international collaboration with graduate students and international colleagues,” said Cummings. “Research has always been our strength but we've really been focusing support and efforts toward it, and it's bearing fruit.”

Four years ago, the faculty implemented new curricula in its undergraduate programs for the first time in decades. Nursing academic leaders are also working on a new curriculum for their doctoral program, and recently completely redeveloped the faculty’s master's and nurse practitioner programming, which Cummings said has led to an explosion in interest.

“Our focus on research and preparing nurses for the future is what’s getting us noticed,” she said.

Other subjects in which the U of A ranked in the top 50 included anatomy and physiology, where the program jumped 10 spots to 34th; geology, which rose five spots to 45th; geophysics, which finished 41st; and earth and marine sciences, which slid one spot to 42nd.

Rounding out subjects in which the U of A finished in the world’s top 100 were education (61st), pharmacy and pharmacology (62nd), chemistry (81st), agriculture and forestry (86th), medicine (tied for 92nd), English language and literature (tied for 94th), chemical engineering (97th) and archeology (ranked among the 51–100 group).

All told, the U of A was ranked in the top 250 in 38 subject areas.

U of A president Bill Flanagan said 16 subject areas in the top 100, spanning the vast range of disciplines at the university, is a testament to the diversity of education available at Alberta’s flagship post-secondary institution.

“This ranking demonstrates the University of Alberta’s expertise and renown in the areas of energy and resource development, health and agriculture, as well as the arts and education, mirroring our province’s strengths,” said Flanagan. “The U of A and the province have been inextricably linked since their mutual inceptions more than a century ago.

“When one succeeds, so does the other.”

The rankings, compiled by global higher education analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds, provide authoritative comparative analysis on the performance of 14,435 individual university programs, taken by students at 1,452 universities in 86 countries, across 51 academic disciplines and five broad faculty areas.

The methodology for compiling each subject ranking can vary greatly and depends on the publishing rates in each area. Academic reputation, which accounts for anywhere from 30 to 90 per cent of the weight given in determining the rank in a subject area, draws on responses from thousands of academics worldwide.

Other measures include employer reputation, which makes up between 10 and 30 per cent of the measure; citations per paper, which also accounts for between 10 and 30 per cent; and h-index—a way of measuring both the productivity and impact of an academic's published work—which is valued anywhere from 10 to 30 per cent.

The U of A’s success in sports-related subjects stems primarily from a score of 83.5 in academic reputation—the university’s best performance in that area—and a top score of 99.2 in the category of citations per paper.

“These rankings have greatly assisted our international partnership efforts, and reflect the dedicated focus on research and scholarship in a broad range of related disciplines by our faculty members," said Kerry Mummery, dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation.

In employer reputation, the university’s best performance came in geophysics, where it earned a score of 86.1, while mineral and mining engineering took home the U of A’s top h-index score of 93.8.

As a whole, Canadian universities punched above their weight. With 593 ranked programs from 31 institutions in this year’s subject rankings, Canada is the sixth most-represented country in the world. In terms of top 100 programs, Canada is the fifth strongest global higher education nation based on 237 programs across 23 institutions.

U of A subjects ranked among world’s top 250

Top 50
  • Sports-Related Subjects: 9 (ranked 7th last year)
  • Petroleum Engineering: 9 (8)
  • Engineering - Mineral & Mining: 11 (11)
  • Nursing: 14 (tied 18)
  • Earth & Marine Sciences: 42 (tied 41)
  • Anatomy & Physiology: 34 (44)
  • Geophysics: tied 41 (46)
  • Geology: 45 (50)
  • Education: 61 (tied 44)
  • English Language & Literature: tied 94 (51-100)
  • Engineering - Chemical: 97 (51-100)
  • Agriculture & Forestry: 86 (51-100)
  • Medicine: tied 92 (51-100)
  • Chemistry: 81 (51-100)
  • Pharmacy & Pharmacology: 62 (51-100)
  • Archeology: 51-100 (51-100)
  • Computer Science & Information Systems: tied 109
  • Engineering - Civil & Structural: 101-150
  • Engineering - Electrical & Electronic: tied 123
  • Environmental Sciences: 101-150
  • Materials Science: 101-150
  • Mathematics: tied 132
  • Accounting & Finance: 101-150
  • Business & Management Studies: tied 121
  • Sociology: 101-150 
  • Physics & Astronomy: tied 137
  • Social Policy & Administration: 101-120
  • History: 151-200
  • Biological Sciences: 151-200
  • Geography: 151-200
  • Linguistics: 151-200
  • Modern Languages: 151-200
  • Engineering - Mechanical, Aeronautical & Manufacturing: 151-200
  • Psychology: 151-200
  • Communication & Media Studies: 151-200
  • Law: 201-250
  • Statistics & Operational Research: 151-200
  • Economics & Econometrics: 151-200