Arab universities to have their own classification system

The Association of Arab Universities last Monday agreed to embark on a process of classification of all Arab universities aimed at achieving consistency in the criteria used to assess institutions in global university rankings.

The Association of Arab universities has its headquarters in Amman, Jordan. Founded in 1964, it has members in 20 countries in the Middle East, and North and East Africa. It is committed to the advancement of higher education, working within the framework of the Arab League.

Dr Amr Ezzat Salama, secretary general of the association, said the need for an ‘Arab classification of universities’ was now urgent. The classification project would be launched in cooperation with a number of Arab and international institutions and organisations as soon as preparations for the qualitative assessment of universities in the region were completed.

Dr Maged Negm, president of the executive council of the association and president of Helwan University in the Arab Republic of Egypt, reportedly said Arab universities had a desire to develop and modernise to keep pace with global developments, and that a competitive and transparent classification system solely for Arab universities would inevitably motivate Arab universities to advance. He said Helwan University would apply to enter the classification system as soon as it was functional.

The classification initiative is motivated by the fact that Arab universities across the region are categorised by different bodies according to specific criteria which are not unanimous.

In the Shanghai ranking of the best universities in the world in 2019, Saudi Arabia and Egypt assert their leadership in the Middle East, while in the Maghreb, only the University of Tunis El Manar is in the top 1,000.

Among the top 15 African higher education institutions are those from Tunisia, Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria, but not Algeria, according to QS World University Rankings 2019.

In Algeria, the problem is complicated by a variety of attitudes towards the global rankings.

Last year, in an attempt to explain why Algerian universities remain at the bottom of the world rankings, former minister of higher education and scientific research Tahar Hadjar suggested that major universities rely on unimportant elements, such as Nobel prizes, to proceed to the top of international rankings. According to the minister, a Nobel Prize has no impact on the quality of education.

"Suppose the Algerian university has a Nobel Prize winner in the ranks of its faculty. What would be its impact on the quality of the training?” he asked.

If we are to believe the surreal words of the former minister, it will have no impact.

"Even if we had 10 Nobel Prizes it will have no impact," he said.

At the time, Hadjar’s comments were widely debated in Algeria. The former minister later clarified his remarks, reportedly saying that he believed the world ranking of universities was not done on the basis of scientific criteria and the University of Algiers deserves better than being placed at 2,341 in the world.