New research index to enhance Arabic academic footprint

Twenty-two Middle East and North African countries are to benefit from the launch in 2020 of the first Arabic Citation Index (ARCI), which aims to facilitate access to Arabic scientific research, thereby enhancing the Arabic academic footprint and ultimately improving university rankings.

The 10 countries in North Africa are Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Somalia and Tunisia. The Middle East countries are the six Gulf states, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, plus Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.

Powered by the Web of Science, the ARCI is the product of a partnership signed on 29 May between Clarivate Analytics and the Egyptian Knowledge Bank, a digital library and online knowledge hub providing access to free education and scientific publications in various branches of knowledge.

ARCI will introduce an Arabic interface for the Web of Science, providing access to bibliographic information and citations to scholarly articles from Arabic journals and other Web of Science content.

It will be the fifth regional citation index developed by the Web of Science after Chinese Science Citation Database, SciELO Citation Index, the Russian Science Citation Index and the KCI Korean Journal Database.

Critical Arabic research

In addition to ensuring Arabic scholarly content is more accessible and helping to evaluate the quality and research outputs of researchers, universities and research organisations, ARCI will identify critical Arabic research, and improve funding opportunities for researchers.

The Arab world represents about 5% of the global population, but contributes to only 1.3% of the world’s academic publications and 0.1% of the world’s registered patents, according to an October 2015 report entitled Science at Universities of the Muslim World, published by the Pakistan-based Muslim World Science Initiative.

"ARCI could be considered an ideal tool for improving the international profile of Arab universities and research publications in domestic journals," Samir Khalaf Abd-El-Aal, research professor at the National Research Centre in Cairo, told University World News.

"This is because the present data included in international databases such as ISI, Scopus and Google Scholar is inadequate for assessing scientific research in Arab universities from an international perspective, as most of the Arab countries' journals are not covered, especially those not using English," Abd-El-Aal said.

Sari Hanafi, professor in the department of sociology, anthropology and media studies of the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, welcomed the news: "It could help in correcting the underestimated research productivity of Arab universities, especially in social science and humanities.

"While the whole concept of university ranking is problematic, the ranking concerning the social science and humanities in Arab universities is fundamentally flawed since most of the social science and humanities production is in Arabic and the Arabic-language journals are not indexed by Elsevier’s Scopus," said Hanafi, lead author of a 2016 report entitled Knowledge Production in the Arab World: The impossible promise.

Only two journals on the Scopus list are produced in Arabic (one from Kuwait and another from Jordan) among the seven journals based in the Arabic world, according to a 2015 blog by Tadween Publishing, a subsidiary of the Arab Studies Institute.

In the Arab world, there are around 300 academic journals in Arabic that are subsequently ignored, the blog notes.

Global rankings

Ultimately, hopes are high that the new index will help to boost the overall international rankings of Arab universities.

While two of the oldest universities in the world are located in the Arab world, including the Morocco-based University of Al-Karaouine and the Egypt-based Al-Azhar University, none of the approximately 700 universities located in the Arab world feature among the top 100 global universities in established global ranking systems.

Shaher Zyoud, researcher at Palestine Technical University – Kadoorie, told University World News the ARCI project could support scientific research in the Arab world by providing an opportunity to evaluate the quality of research in the region and to compare it with the quality of research from other regions across the globe.

This view was endorsed by Abd-El-Aal who said that ARCI will increase the visibility and citation of scientific research, leading to the promotion of national and regional cooperation among Arab universities. “This, in turn, will improve the ranking of the Arab universities among world-class universities," Abd-El-Aal said.

"ARCI will also increase Arabic internet content," Abd-El-Aal pointed out.

Arabic-speaking internet users constitute the fourth highest group of users after English, Chinese and Spanish, according to December 2017 figures of Internet World Stats. However, according to Web Technology Surveys, Arabic internet content comprises only 0.6% of total content, making it one of the most under-represented languages online, as indicated by a 2016 report entitled Media industries in the Middle East.