Does new ranking ignore Middle East progress?

Only one Saudi university out of more than 600 Arab universities located in the 22 Arab states was included in the new ranking based on ‘international orientation’, despite having a good documented record of internationalisation performance in several studies.

Produced by independent consortium U-Multirank, the 18 February international orientation ranking is based on a range of indicators including student mobility, international academic staff, and international research cooperation as measured by the proportion of international joint publications and international doctoral degrees.

The first ‘ready-made’ results of U-Multirank included 237 institutions, but only one university from the Arab world – Saudi Arabia-based King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.

"Petroleum University is top in international academic staff, as everyone would expect. They attract many researchers from abroad. But they are weaker in student mobility – probably this might be an effect of one-way mobility," according to Frank Ziegele, director of the Centre for Higher Education in Germany and one of the U-Multirank project leaders.

"In international joint publication, this university shows middle performance – they publish substantially with partners from abroad, but not on top level," he added.

Arab universities’ performance

This weak representation for Arab universities in international orientation performance contradicts findings from several international reports.

UNESCO 2014 statistics revealed that United Arab Emirates or UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are ranked 17, 19 and 20 respectively in the top 20 countries worldwide that attract the most overseas students to their universities.

Also, Egypt along with Saudi Arabia and UAE hosted 4% of the global share of mobile students as indicated in UNESCO’s Global Flow of Tertiary-level Students.

Egypt’s capital, Cairo, is the only African entry in the list of Quacquarelli Symonds, or QS, among the top 50 Best Student Cities in the World for 2012, with the highest score for ‘affordability’.

According to the statistics published on the StatNano website, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Tunisia are ranked 19, 26 and 46 respectively in the top 50 countries worldwide in 2014 in publication production in nanoscience, which demonstrates a good record for international joint publications.

With 95 contributions to papers published in 2014, Egypt is the second Arab state in publications after Saudi Arabia (358), according to a report entitled 2014: The Year in Science.

"The index uses fractional count to measure the actual contribution that a country makes to the papers it published. While there are Egyptian affiliations to 95 papers, the fractional count comes down to 15.45," the report stated.

"This reflects heavy collaboration with the West, usually in response to limited budgets available to researchers who need to use equipment not available locally. The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany represent half of these contributions," the report said.

According to a report entitled Which of the World’s Institutions Employ the Most Highly Cited Researchers? An analysis of the data from highlycited .com, King Abdulaziz University was the second in the number of highly cited researchers, listing it as either a primary or a secondary affiliation with 160 – just after the University of California with 198.

Highly Cited Researchers 2014 includes over 3,000 researchers whose work is among the top 1% most cited work in their respective subjects.

Brazil has five researchers in the elite group, Russia has eight, South Africa, Iran and Singapore have 11 each, Japan has 102, South Korea has 25, but Saudi Arabia stuns everyone with 180, listing it as either a primary (30) or a secondary affiliation (150) as the elite researchers are engaged in partnerships and collaborations with universities in Saudi Arabia.

Ranking limitation

Frans van Vught, co-project-leader of U-Multirank told University World News: "Some Arabic universities score very well on this indicator."

Van Vught said they clearly had a strong international focus on research as shown in the Leiden ranking 2014, which is basically included in U-Multirank.

"Here, the King Abdulaziz University and the King Saud University currently score positions 1 and 2 on the indicator 'joint international publications'.

"We expect that this will become visible in the upcoming version of U-Multirank by the end of March, and we are of course happy to acknowledge this performance."

Van Vught said that in the case of U-Multirank’s 'ready-made ranking' the sample was limited to those universities that had registered and that had an international student population of at least 7.5%. He said this was why so few Arabic universities showed up.

"The comparisons with some other data sources show that some Arab universities are highly involved in the international world of research. But they do not allow us to conclude that the 'overall performance' on internationalisation is high,” Van Vught said. "For such a conclusion we would need more data on more indicators."