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The Arab World Lags Behind in the ‘Green’ Universities Movement

CAIRO—University rankings are a popular way to gauge the academic prowess of schools, but a new report released last January rates the environmental sustainability of campuses across the globe.

Unsurprisingly, it shows that the Arab world could do better.

Only 14 universities located in eight countries have adopted any significant environmentally friendly policies out of the more than 600 universities across the region. This was the conclusion of the fifth annual Universitas Indonesia UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, which used data collected in 2014.

The ranking was based on results computed from information provided by 360 universities from 62 countries. The data relates to six main categories: green statistics; energy and climate change; waste management; water use; transportation and education.

The data categories varied in weight in the rankings with factors related to energy and climate change the most important and water use the least.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Syria and Morocco have only one university each in the rankings. Egypt has two, Palestine three, and Jordan four. Jordan was accordingly the top country in the Arab world for establishing environmentally conscious universities. The rankings of the Arab institutions are as follows:

  • Jordan University of Science and Technology: 49th
  • University of Jordan: 103rd
  • American University in Cairo: 105th
  • Kafrelsheikh University (Egypt): 129th
  • The Islamic University of Gaza: 133rd
  • An-Najah National University (Palestine): 136th
  • al-Aqsa University (Palestine): 201st
  • The University of King Abdulaziz (Saudi Arabia): 203rd
  • United Arab Emirates University: 230th
  • Petra University (Jordan): 253rd
  • American University of Beirut: 257th
  • Damascus University 333rd
  • Cadi Ayyad University (Morocco): 340th
  • The Hashemite University (Jordan): 345th

The meager representation of Arab countries among the world’s green campuses comes despite a 2009 report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council, which cites North Africa as particularly vulnerable to climate change—thanks to its geographic and ecological features along with a low capacity to adapt to change.

Shabbir Shahid, acting manager of the central analytical laboratory at International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates, said that the low performance of Arab universities in the green metric is due to the persistence of an “old curricula and a lack of understanding of the values for adopting a green campus concept.”

Tarek Saif, an environmentalist at Egypt’s National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, recommended establishing a network of green Arab universities to collaborate on environmental innovations, training programs and building low carbon campuses.

The 14 Arab universities that were in the green rankings could partner with other specialized institutions—such as the Pan African University Institute of Water and Energy Sciences in Algeria and Masdar in the United Arab Emirates—to constitute the core of the network, suggested Saif.

A Saudi bio-scientist, Mohammed Kuchari at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, agreed with the idea of an Arab network, but warned it shouldn’t be too ambitious.  “The proposed network should not re-invent the wheel as we already have regional and international best practices to learn from.”

Those best practices include 25 recommendations from universities and colleges across the globe, which were documented in another report last month by the International Sustainable Campus Network. 

The United Nations also has a list of recommendations in a “toolkit,” released two years ago, which focused on sustainable campuses.

A recent report on the Green Economy: Sustainable Transition in a Changing Arab World,” made the case for more environmental awareness in Arab countries. (Download a PDF of the report here.)

Eltayeb Mohamed Abdelgadir, a researcher at the Agricultural Research Corporation in Sudan, said the effort to create environmentally conscious campuses in the Arab world should produce homegrown technologies and generate a competitive green industry in the region. “Applying the green-campus concept should not be seen as just fashionable imitations of Western higher education trends.”


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