LONDON—In a poll taken during the Middle East Education Thought Leadership Forum this week, the 2,000 educators attending in person and online voted 7 to 1 in favour of an Arab university ranking system.
In a debate before Thursday’s vote, Bibi Alajmi, graduate programme director at Kuwait University, and Karim Seghir, chancellor of Ajman University, in the United Arab Emirates, spoke for a unique Arab ranking system.
Ursula El Hage, director of the entrepreneurship centre and the Career Placement Office at Saint Joseph University of Beirut, and Ghassan Aouad, president of the Applied Science University, in Bahrain, spoke against.
Ashwin Fernandes, regional director of QS Quacquarelli Symonds the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, moderated the debate. QS Quacquarelli Symonds is one of several major producers of global rankings of universities.
Bibi Alajmi, of Kuwait University, argued in favour of an Arab classification system that took into account the demands of the Arab region.
Bibi Alajmi said the Association of Arab Universities was already coordinating an Arab classification system that complied with international ranking systems but took into account the demands of the Arab region.
Politics come more into the Arab education system, Alajmi said. She noted that many of the region’s universities were state-controlled or relied on the state for their funding.
Rankings are an excellent tool for improving a university and creating competition in research, she argued, but international ranking systems are biased to the English language and many Arab researchers do not publish their research in English.
The Globalisation Angle
Ursula El Hage countered that international rankings were not political because they were international. She said it was important to keep international rankings because of globalisation. Students look at the rankings. They want their universities to be ranked internationally for future employment or exchange programmes.
Karim Seghir said Arab and international universities should not be compared because government funding and industry contributions were much less in the Arab region than in the West, for example.
Universities in the Arab world are relatively young and usually are not in the top 100 in global rankings, Seghir said. More than 70 universities in the West are at least 200 years old. It is not easy to find Arab universities in the same category.
Ursula El Hage, of Saint Joseph University of Beirut, argued that it was important to keep international rankings because of globalisation.
There should also be more emphasis on cooperation between Arab universities to reduce the region’s high unemployment, he added.
Ghassan Aouad said the Association of Arab Universities was doing a fantastic job: Its methodology was global and research published in Arabic was taken into account.
He particularly knew the situation in the United Kingdom, where many young universities which had been technical colleges were ranked with famous traditional universities. Some had done really well by being allowed to compete in the same table, he said.
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Aouad said that, in the end, the whole world was facing the same challenges and all universities cared about standards and quality.
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