Kuwait University’s relatively low position in the recently published QS World University Rankings for 2023 has reignited debate over the university’s scientific research funding.
For the second year in a row, Kuwait University, the country’s only public institution, ranked in the 1,001-1,200 band globally in the annual classification of universities published by QS Quacquarelli Symonds, a British higher-education analytics company.
Ibrahim Al-Hamoud, a professor of public law at Kuwait University, told Al-Fanar Media that the university’s consistently low rating was linked to its “poor” budget, “particularly the allocations for research that requires large sums of money.”
Al-Hamoud, who was previously head of Kuwait University’s Association of Faculty members, thought the decline was also related to too few faculty members participating in scientific conferences abroad because of limited funding , as well as a worsening ratio of faculty members to students, whose numbers had doubled in recent years.
Research and the Faculty-Student Ratio
“Kuwait University needs an urgent plan to meet its academic ambitions and its faculty members’ aspiration to raise the budget allocations for research, encourage its teaching staff to conduct research projects, and accelerate the construction of the university’s second campus.”Reem Al-Rudainy A scholar of women’s and gender studies
Research citations per faculty member and the faculty-student ratio are both major factors in QS’s rankings methodology, with each accounting for 20 percent of an institution’s overall score. The other criteria are academic reputation, weighted at 40 percent of a university’s total score; employer reputation (10 percent), and the ratios of international faculty members and international students (5 percent each).
According to Kuwait University’s website, there are about 1,560 faculty members, 307 assistant teachers, and 36,411 students. “The faculty-student ratio is very low,” Al-Hamoud commented.
Al-Hamoud believes the best solution to the university’s low international ranking, which affects its academic reputation, would be to “accelerate the completion of its second campus, have higher financial allocations, more faculty members, and support for faculty members to dedicate more time to research.”
“Faculty members’ focus on administrative work rather than research is caused by the accumulation of teaching burdens, and the lack of financial incentive for research,” he added. “Faculty members who continue their research sometimes have to spend from their own pockets.”
Progress on Some Indicators
In a statement on Twitter, the university said it had made progress in several subcategories in the rankings, despite remaining in the 1,001-1,200 group out of 1,418 universities ranked.
It said the university had made progress in employment outcomes, reflecting its ability “to qualify high-level graduates to engage in the labour market and make a positive impact in various fields of work.”
It also cited progress on the global research network index, which reflects the university’s “ability to diversify its international research network through sustainable research partnerships with other higher-education institutions.”
In an attempt to explain its relatively low ranking, the university noted that “there are many aspects that are outside the control of the university, being a public university, and that some reasons are related to government decisions that may not be in line with some international ranking standards.”
Competition from Private Institutions
“Faculty members’ focus on administrative work rather than research is caused by the accumulation of teaching burdens and the lack of financial incentive for research. Faculty members who continue their research sometimes have to spend from their own pockets.”Ibrahim Al-Hamoud A professor of public law
However academics at Kuwait University think the country’s private universities are the main beneficiary of the public university’s consistently low ranking.
Reem Al-Rudainy, head of the Women and Gender Studies Unit in the department of history and archaeology at Kuwait University, acknowledges that there are “some negative aspects in the university’s educational and research outputs.”
“The university’s ills are structural, requiring the destruction of its legal and institutional system,” she told Al-Fanar Media. “Marginal frills will not address them.”
She thought there was “a wave of commercial universities taking advantage to hit their main competitor, Kuwait University, especially with media exaggeration of the matter portraying Kuwait University graduates as unqualified to join the labour market.”
She said the university’s performance was good. “Our university graduates do get jobs. They are admitted into graduate scholarships at European and American universities.”
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Al-Rudainy believes “Kuwait University needs an urgent plan to meet its academic ambitions and its faculty members’ aspiration to raise the budget allocations for research, encourage its teaching staff to conduct research projects, and accelerate the construction of the university’s second campus to accommodate more students.”
She said the responsibility for Kuwait University’s consistently low ranking was linked to “government allocations that, if increased, may contribute to solving many problems and improving conditions.”
Al-Hamoud added that the private sector could play a role in financially supporting the university’s research projects, to link the labour market with research, given the continued reduced government allocations.”