Degrees from Canadian universities continue to be highly valued around the world, even while postsecondary institutions in other English-speaking countries are facing declines in their reputation with employers, a new survey shows.

Five Canadian universities appear among the Top 100 on this year’s Times Higher Education Global University Employability Ranking table, which polled 6,000 firms globally on the question of which universities produced the “best graduates in terms of employability” in their own countries and abroad. The University of Toronto, McGill and the University of Montreal/HEC, ranked 13, 18 and 44, while the University of British Columbia was 45th and McMaster 74th.

The results suggest that Canadian universities are training undergraduates with the skills employers need, particularly in areas like business, computer science and engineering, which represented 80 per cent of the industry sectors polled.

“We’ve tried to focus more on core competencies along with learning subjects they’re studying,” said Meric Gertler, the president of the University of Toronto. “We’ve made sure they communicate well, that they have an opportunity to work in teams. Those efforts are paying off.”

U of T is one of the seven universities and colleges that are tracking students’ problem solving, communication and critical thinking skills throughout their education with the hope of scaling the results to other institutions.

Demanding rigorous standards may also be part of the explanation for U of T’s showing, Dr. Gertler added.

“While our students may not always appreciate that, it seems that employers do,” he said.

The results are a contrast to the drop in reputation that British universities have suffered this year. In a shocking tumble, Oxford dropped eight points to No. 15.

“When they saw [the Oxford] number, the researchers had to go away and double check the data. That was startling,” said Simon Baker, the data editor of Times Higher Education.

British graduates may be lacking the technical skills employers value because British universities insist that their job is to produce graduates who are “well-rounded,” Mr. Baker said.

“Universities in the U.K. would argue that is exactly what employers want. They want people that have transferable skills, but to a certain extent that is why the U.K. does not do so well in this ranking,” he said.

In contrast, universities in France and Germany integrate employer needs and even employer curriculum into the classroom.

“Countries like Canada and France have a stronger focus on employability and making sure that they prepare graduates for their time outside university,” Mr. Baker said.

Canadian universities are also increasingly turning to work-integrated co-op programs to bolster student’s resumes and skills before they graduate. High employer rankings validate that approach, UBC said in a statement.

American universities had the best showing overall, but Princeton, Yale and Stanford all fell.

Canada’s positive showing is good news for universities in this country that have seen some slips recently on rankings that emphasize academic reputation, the impact of research and teaching quality.

Postsecondary leaders have argued that strong public investment in teaching and research is needed to bolster their universities’ global competitiveness.

Research funding directly contributes to an intensive educational experience that prepares students for work, U of T’s president said.

“Our ability to be able to deliver that kind of experience to our undergraduates does indeed depend on the continued and hopefully more generous [research] support from the federal government,” Dr. Gertler said.

The current survey is based on the views of thousands of managers in 22 countries – including Canada. The number of firms polled in each country depended on its GDP and the number of university students and institutions and they were asked to rate schools in their own country and abroad. The survey is conducted by Trendence, an employment research institute based in Germany, and Emerging, a French consulting firm, and published by the Times Higher Education.

The Globe and Mail, November 16, 2017