Two Emirati universities have made it into the top 100 of the Times Higher Education BRICS & Emerging Economies 2014 rankings.
United Arab Emirates University and the American University of Sharjah were recognized as the top-performing institutions in the Middle East and North Africa region, ranking in the 76th and 79th places on the BRICS rankings, respectively.
This new ranking only included the 22 countries listed by the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) as being either “advanced emerging” or “secondary emerging” countries. This means that not all Arab countries were included. Saudi Arabia, for example, was excluded, as was Qatar. The United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Egypt were included in the study because they are all classified as emerging economies.
“On that basis, this is a reasonable, solid, performance, but it is by no means spectacular,” wrote Phil Baty, editor of Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings’ in an e-mail response to questions about the status of Arab universities. The Arab institutions in the list are low down the table.
The criteria used for the BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings are identical to the overall Times Higher World University Rankings, which are designed to capture the elements that Times Higher believes make up a world-class research-led university. This classification, powered by Thomson Reuters, uses 13 indicators, across teaching, knowledge transfer, international outlook, and research excellence.
According to Baty, the leading two Arab institutions scored well for thinking internationally.
“The international outlook scores for both universities are the best scores in the entire top 100 list – very far ahead of the number-one ranked Peking University, for example.” Baty said, suggesting that a commitment to serious internationalization is an important part of being a leading global institution.
Emirati academe has celebrated the news, which coincides with the announcement of winning the right to host the 2020 World Expo in Dubai. “We are pleased to be among the best,” Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, vice-chancellor of United Arab Emirates University, told the Emirates news agency. “Such a prestigious achievement reflects efforts by the UAEU academic staff and students, who are collaborating to drive future success.”
The United Arab Emirates University, with more than 13,000 students and over 1,000 staff members, had a total score of 22.6 percent, compared to the international leader, Peking University, with 65 percent. United Arab Emirates University scored 13.3 percent in teaching, 84.3 percent in international outlook, 30 percent in industry income, 8.9 percent in research and 29.7 percent in citations.
While American University of Sharjah, founded in 1997, now has 5,400 students, and a total score on the rankings of 21.4 percent. The university scored 16.8 percent in teaching, 89.6 percent in international outlook, 30.0 percent in industry income, 15.3 percent in research and 14.3 percent in citations.
University rankings are still controversial in the Arab region. Some rankings critics argue that each university has different strengths to offer and that there is no perfect methodology to make fair comparisons between universities.
Other critics see the Times Higher BRICS ranking as just a cynical vehicle to squeeze more publicity out of the publication’s rankings and more money out of institutional advertisers.
Baty said the BRICS rankings are a legitimate exercise. Asked if it is logical to compare universities in China to universities in Egypt, he said that there is no “one –size-fits-all model of university excellence.” At the same time, he said that the BRICS ranking “is looking at a tiny elite of world-class research universities, using the same criteria as we judge Harvard and Oxford, so we think the exercise is entirely appropriate.”
But he also expressed an interest in developing a regional approach. According to him, it would be appropriate to capture different aspects of a university and to reflect more local priorities, such as graduate skills and employability.
“We are very keen to work with Arab universities,” he said, “to develop indictors and rankings criteria that better-reflect local policy priorities and university missions, for more regional rankings in the future.” In fact, Times Higher faces competition from another rankings provider, U.S. News & World Report, which says it will develop a rankings guide for the Middle East and North Africa region in the next three years.