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Kuwait University’s Decline in QS Rankings Stirs Heated Debate on Campus

Kuwait University’s recent drop to a lower tier in a ranking of 1,300 universities worldwide by QS Quacquarelli Symonds is provoking fierce internal debate.

In the QS World University Rankings 2022, published by the British analytic company last summer, Kuwait University was in a group ranked 1,001-1,200, out of the 1,300 total. The previous year, it was in a group ranked 801-1,000 out of 1,184 universities ranked.

That continued an apparent downward trajectory in the rankings over the past decade. Kuwait University had been in the 801-1,000 group for three years, after ranking in the top 700 universities in 2018. In 2012, its rank was given as 600+.

Some academics view this trend as a sign of “rapid deterioration.”

But the Kuwaiti academic Abdullah Al-Shayji said conditions at the university are relatively unchanged.

He tweeted that “these rankings do not take into account the nature of the country’s only public university.” The rankings’ metrics require “a diverse and multinational student and teaching staff community—something missing in this university.”

“These rankings do not take into account the nature of the country’s only public university. [They require] a diverse and multinational student and teaching staff community; something missing in this university.”

He also noted that the university had not submitted a list of its published research to the rankings’ evaluation department and had failed to fill university leadership positions in the past two years.

It is not clear how those omissions affected the university’s score in the rankings. Kuwait University recently installed a new director, who has put improving the university’s place in international rankings among his priorities.

QS Rankings Methodologies

The QS World University Rankings are based on six metrics, including a “citations per faculty” measure, which QS calculates as a measure of institutional research quality. This factor accounts for 20 percent of a university’s total score.

The metric given the most weight (40 percent) is an academic reputation score, which QS calculates based on a survey of academic opinion regarding teaching and research quality at universities.

Other factors QS considers are an employer reputation metric (10 percent of the total score), based on a survey of employers’ opinions of which institutions are producing the best graduates; an institution’s faculty/student ratio (20 percent); and ratios of international faculty and international students (5 percent each).

In a separate QS ranking of universities in the Arab world, Kuwait University has fared better. It ranked 27th out of 181 Arab institutions ranked in 2022. The year before, it ranked 22nd out of 160 universities, and in 2020 it was  21st out of 130 universities. In other words, it ranked within or near the top 15 percent of all Arab institutions ranked in each of those years.

The Arab regional rankings use a different methodology than the global rankings. The regional rankings are based on 10 metrics and put less weight on citations, among other differences.

Kuwait University’s Particularity 

Abdullah Alhajeri, acting dean of Kuwait University’s College of Arts, agrees that the global ranking “does not take into account Kuwait University’s specific situation.”

He tweeted that “the problem of the global rankings of Kuwait University lies in the fact that the rankings have various criteria not acceptable even for the university’s critics themselves.”

For example, admitting more international students would be difficult at a time when the university has had to reduce enrollments and is turning away qualified Kuwaiti students.

He also mentioned concerns over “requirements to raise the budget allocated for research, and ease the quorum for faculty members to devote themselves to research rather than being overburdened with teaching.”

“The biggest glitch comes from reducing the scientific research share in the budget, while directing the largest share to buildings and construction. The remaining goes to salaries and wages only.”

Shamlan Al-Qenaie President of Kuwait University’s Faculty Members Association

He said Kuwait University was “the first, and indeed the oldest university in the Arabian Gulf.”  The university’s faculty members hold Ph.D.’s from some of the best universities in the world, he said, thanks to a scholarship system that “sends the best-achieving students to study abroad.”

‘A Major Imbalance’

A faculty leader, however, took a different view.

Shamlan al-Qenaie, president of Kuwait University’s Association of Faculty Members, believes the declines in the global rankings reveal “a major imbalance and a real crisis at the university.”

In a talk during a Ramadan evening organised by the association, al-Qenaie said “the biggest glitch comes from reducing the scientific research share in the budget while directing the largest share to buildings and construction. The remaining share goes to salaries and wages only.”

He added: “The deterioration of the university’s ranking and outputs is also because of the administrative vacuum the university has experienced since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

He told the association’s members: “We are all anxious and concerned about the state of our only public university, this great academic edifice to which we are all honoured to belong.”

He compared the university’s current struggles to a “wound … that is still bleeding” and called for more cooperation to help the university “rise from this repression and … regain its deserved status.”

Developing Plans for Action

Alhajeri, the acting dean of the College of Arts, said that the university had for some time been experiencing a “systematic campaign” from “academic colleagues inside and outside Kuwait University to reduce its academic reputation, as if they are happy with that.”

Yousef Al-Roumi, the university’s new director, said a plan was being developed to address the challenges facing the university. In a recent statement, he talked about his plans to raise its ranking.

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Asked whether foreign students would be admitted by the university in the next academic year, Al-Roumi said a committee had been formed recently to raise the university’s ranking.

“The committee will continue its work, but the university is waiting for the latest data about foreign student admission to take the necessary action.”

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