Study proposes range of measures to improve HE performance

A study which sets out to investigate the performance of higher education institutions in the 22 member states of the Arab League has proposed greater cooperation between institutions, more partnerships with industry and less reliance on global indicators to evaluate universities’ performance.

The study entitled “The performance of higher education institutions in the Arab world from a strategic perspective: Challenges and possible solutions” was published in a recent issue of the Journal of the Association of Arab Universities for Research in Higher Education. It was authored by Sam Alfoqahaa and Abdulnaser Nour from An-Najah National University in Palestine and published at the end of June.

The study, based on a literature review, evaluated a string of determinants of performance, including weak levels of local, regional and international cooperation between universities, limited spending on scientific research projects, the reluctance of the private sector to invest in scientific research projects in universities, weak individual performance appraisal systems, market competition among higher education institutions, and limited capacity building programmes for academic cadres.


The study provided the following recommendations to improve the weak performance of higher education institutions in the Arab world:

• Rather than evaluating the performance of universities according to global indicators and mechanisms only, it is necessary to develop mechanisms to measure institutional performance based on the administrative, economic and social performance of institutions.

• It is necessary to activate and benefit from cooperation agreements between universities which should be seen as development opportunities.

• Universities and higher education councils need to propose cooperation initiatives between universities that include joint academic and cooperative programmes such as scientific research.

• There is an urgent need for partnership initiatives between universities and the private sector to ensure academic programmes directly serve the needs of business.

• There is a need for universities to bring their evaluation criteria for academics in line with strategic objectives so that those criteria include research and creative excellence.

• Academic bodies need to undergo continuous development to keep pace with rapid changes in all scientific fields.

• Allocations for scientific research need to be increased and such allocations must be used to ensure excellence for institutions .

• Faculty members need continuous training to improve their performance.

• Advanced performance evaluation methods need to be adopted.

• There is a need to spread and raise morale in the work environment at all levels.

Members of the Arab higher education community approached by University World News welcomed the recommendations but some called for more measures to be included.

Professor Ahmed El-Gohary, former president of the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology, told University World News the study could be considered a “contribution to overcome a deficiency” in academic publications focused on improving Arab higher education systems and universities.

However, he said the study assumes that all Arab universities are knowledge producers, “which is not the case at all, in contrast with excellent universities internationally”.

“It is very well known that the Arab universities, with rare exceptions, are teaching universities, equipping citizens for the job market, which function is also questionable when we consider relevance, effectiveness and efficiency,” El-Gohary said.

“Arab universities, therefore, should focus on building the ecosystem that can support research, innovation, entrepreneurs, linking academia to industry, to be followed by the collection of revenues and outcomes of knowledge creation,” he said.

Starting point

Professor Sami Hammami, former vice-president of the University of Sfax in Tunisia, told University World News the study could be a starting point for a new strategy for Arab universities in a “constantly changing” world.

“The study focuses, among other things, on internal and external university cooperation, an aspect sometimes neglected by our universities. However, other aspects can be integrated into this orientation,” Hammami said.

“We must aim for an inclusive university (equal opportunities in education, parity), improve the reception of foreign students, prepare a research strategy that matches regional and national needs, facilitate inter-Arab cooperation in research and education, develop institutions to facilitate the accreditation of universities and degrees in addition to considering aspects related to sustainable development and respect for university ethics,” Hammami said.

He said there is a need for a political commitment at the national and regional level to make higher education a national priority and to limit the obstacles to inter-university cooperation and also to enhance the access of researchers to data and well-equipped laboratories.

Abdellah Benahnia, a part-time international researcher and professor at the Superior Institutions of Science and Technology, an associate college of Cardiff Metropolitan University in Casablanca, Morocco, told University World News the measures proposed should include the revamping of administrative rules.

“Rules governing human resources and the hiring of teachers and testing should be revised,” Benahnia said.

“There is no doubt that there is an urgent need to search for resources and methods of financing and to adopt participatory approaches, including concluding agreements between universities, higher education institutions and science-based companies as well as creating scientific chairs in all disciplines,” Benahnia added.

He said every university reform project should involve the student and the teacher, who are the main stakeholders.

“The reform project must also entrust its tasks and stages of preparation to experts, with an emphasis on the application of quality standards at every stage, away from any intellectual, ideological, political or partisan bidding, and away from all favouritism,” Benahnia concluded.

Observatory of university performance

Ahmed Atia, a higher education expert and head of the department of research, consultation and training at the faculty of medical technology at the University of Tripoli, Libya, said the recommendations for boosting the performance of Arab universities could be considered an efficient roadmap for developing an innovation-based economy.

“An observatory for monitoring Arab university performance must be established as a source of information and performance indicators for higher education institutions, along with helping policy-makers to formulate evidence-based policy and action plans,” Atia said.

Yousef Torman, the managing director of the Arab States Research and Education Network in Jordan, told University World News that the measures should include connectivity to national, regional and global research and education networks and the building of ‘open science’ capabilities and policies.

“I also believe that each Arab university has to explicitly publish or announce direct or indirect contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially in relation to local and regional challenges,” Torman said.