(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Al-Fanar Media)
It was recently announced that the first Arab ranking of Arab universities will appear at the end of this year, through the Association of Arab Universities, which currently includes 450 Arab universities.
The association will seek to make this ranking global within two years. Its General Secretariat has already embarked on a ten-year strategy aimed at raising the level of Arab universities to world standards.
The first question in this strategy was how to raise the status and classification of Arab universities through scientific publishing. Arab universities produce a great wealth of knowledge in the human sciences, but international classification systems do not see this distinguished production of Arab universities, because the most influential papers are published by foreign journals. Therefore, the association has already signed an agreement with Elsevier, the institution that owns the Scopus database, to include scientific journals issued by Arab universities in that index.
Making Arab Research More Visible
The Association of Arab Universities has approved the establishment of an Arab Journals Platform for journals issued by Arab universities, whether in Arabic or in foreign languages. It also agreed to have an advisory board similar to the advisory board for the Scopus database to assist the journals and prepare them to comply with the index’s standards.
This board will also work on recommending the entry of scientific journals into the database, which will help Arab scientific journals achieve this goal and will also be directly reflected on the presence of Arab universities in international rankings.
The implementation of the project has already begun and a number of Arab scientific journals are on the Arab Journals Platform. Any researcher can view this platform online, which will have a very significant impact on future rankings.
The First Arab Ranking for Universities
“The current classifications compare universities that are not comparable in the first place due to vast gaps between them in many matters, and the neglect of knowledge production in a language other than English.”
There are more than 30,000 universities and higher institutes around the world. Annually, several thousand of them are evaluated and ranked by about 20 organisations that conduct international university rankings, each according to its own methodology.
The most prominent of these rankings are the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), also known as the Shanghai Ranking, and two rankings produced by companies in the United Kingdom, the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Other major rankings are produced by organisations in Australia, the Netherlands, Spain, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
We definitely need to have an Arab ranking that first complies with international standards and at the same time takes into account the conditions of Arab universities in particular.
It is known that clear information about the educational and research capabilities of universities and their services to society is placed on the international rankings sites and a comparison is made for the performance of these universities.
Universities are usually keen to participate in international rankings, because holding an advanced position in international rankings contributes to attracting outstanding students and faculty members to a university and enhances the employment prospects of its graduates.
It also helps in obtaining funding for research projects and increasing financial support from various quarters.
New Criteria for Arab Classification
The entry of universities into international classifications has also become one of the conditions that the ministries of education accreditation in some countries require.
Therefore, the announcement of the first Arab ranking of Arab universities is an important step towards establishing a new classification system for Arab universities.
The latest developments toward producing the new Arab ranking were discussed in March at the General Conference of the Association of Arab Universities, which was hosted by Al-Ahliyya Amman University, in Jordan.
According to what was announced at the conference, the Arab ranking will be distinguished from other international classifications by new criteria for the first time that measure the extent of the excellence of Arab universities in the field of innovation, creativity and leadership. This criterion is not found in any of the other major international rankings.
Benefits for Arab Universities
It is expected that the new Arab classification will help Arab universities to activate their creativity and innovation, in order to develop society, because scientific research in universities is a major factor in the development and evolution of societies.
“One criticism of rankings is that some universities may follow devious methods to improve their scores in the rankings, which makes the idea of university classification an obsession and an end in itself. “
This project will also allow the Arab region to make its own contribution to the world rankings. It will also determine the position of Arab universities in relation to the level of universities in the rest of the world.
Arab universities have made many improvements in recent years, but many of them still suffer from difficulties that can impede the educational process and research activities. These difficulties may stem from poor material or human resources, or other intertwined and complex reasons. Ultimately, this leads to the absence of a clear scientific vision and a weak contribution to building a knowledge society that participates in finding scientific and practical solutions appropriate to the problems from which Arab societies suffer.
Criticism of Rankings
University rankings are criticized by many international bodies and institutions, who question the validity of comparisons between different types of universities.
The current classifications compare universities that are not comparable in the first place due to vast gaps between them in many matters, and the neglect of knowledge production in a language other than English.
Another criticism of rankings is that some universities may follow devious methods to improve their scores in the rankings, which makes the idea of university classification an obsession and an end in itself.
The goal of Arab universities should be how to improve and advance the level of education and translate research into projects that benefit society. If this is achieved, the “ranking” or the good quality of Arab universities will be a foregone conclusion.
Finally, it is necessary to seriously review the budget for scientific research aimed at finding solutions to environmental, health, industrial, and agricultural problems, and not to brag about spending on costly projects that do not concern society just to advance in an absurd classification here or there. In the end, that only helps universities that rely on exorbitant enrolment fees.
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This is not the case for most Arab universities, which can maintain their primacy in free education. But at the same time, they must strive towards improving the quality of education and graduating qualified students equipped with the knowledge and experience their countries need, and not for the sake of showing off in a ranking here or there.
Tarek Kapiel is an academic, writer, translator, and science editor. He is an assistant professor of botany and microbiology at Cairo University’s Faculty of Science. He is also a fellow of the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology at Egypt’s Ministry of Higher Education.
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