Experts representing Arab countries recently concluded the fourth annual conference of the Arab Organization for Quality Assurance in Education, or AROQAE, by announcing the Cairo Declaration, in terms of which Arab standards for quality education similar to those achieved internationally are to be formulated.
The conference, which took place in Cairo from 2-3 September, had as its theme "Methods for Consensus and Common Standards for Quality Assurance and Academic Accreditation in Arab Universities".
Arab roadmap for improving quality
To tackle problems of low quality and poor performance in Arab universities, at the opening session of the conference Talal Abu Ghazaleh, the AROQAE president, called for setting up an Arab plan for higher education.
He pointed out that the existing consensus between education quality and accreditation systems, and the mutual recognition of Arab higher education institutions and their outputs, are among the main requirements for setting up such a plan.
According to the conference press release, the Cairo Declaration called for a framework and recommendations regarding education quality to be developed for presentation to the upcoming general meeting of AROQAE, to be held in Libya.
In addition to establishing an advisory council comprising experts and representatives of Arab quality centres and councils, there was a call to promote cooperation between national accreditation bodies, quality centres and councils in Arab countries.
According to the press release the intention is to enhance cooperation between AROQAE, the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization, and the Association of Arab Universities.
There was also a call for Arab universities to shift from an emphasis on ‘education’ to ‘learning’, to harness information and communications technology, and to stress knowledge as a road to wealth making.
Basic standards on teaching quality, teaching materials and the teaching environment will be set up to integrate high levels of quality and sustainability into the expanding higher education sector in the Arab world.
Expansion is seeing increasing numbers of universities and students, growing private sector investment in higher education, and the appearance of new types of education such as open and distance education.
The declaration calls for scientific and technological capabilities to be developed and for research institutions to be advanced, along with providing financial support for higher education institutions and research centres, and spreading a culture of quality.
An Arab magazine on quality in education will focus on sharing information and discussing future challenges in research, interventions, management and policy-making.
A number of reports on quality assurance and accreditation systems in the Arab world – including in Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Yemen, Lebanon and Algeria – were presented at the conference.
Mohammed Kuchari, associate professor of microbiology at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, welcomed the declaration. "If implemented, the Cairo Declaration could be a vital step towards improving and upgrading Arab universities," he told University World News.
Research productivity and quality assurance
Universities located in Arab states suffer from relatively low education quality, research productivity and international ranking.
A 2012 report on global competitiveness indicated that most Arab states perform poorly with regard to the quality of their education systems. For example, Egypt came 135 in the world out of 142 countries and Yemen came last.
With reference to universities’ research productivity, only two of 22 Arab states – Egypt and Saudi Arabia – were included among the top 50 countries, according to a 2012 forecasting exercise by the research, evaluation and ranking platform Scimago.
And in the 2012 academic ranking of world universities, or ARWU, from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, only four universities from Arab states were included in the top 500: Cairo University (Egypt) and three in Saudi Arabia: King Saud University, King Abdulaziz University and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. No Arab university is ranked among the top 100.
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