Saudi Arabia dominates the Arab region’s higher education sector in the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject, released on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia has more ranked programmes than any other Arab country, including 27 that were ranked in the top 100 worldwide in their subjects. Its closest regional competitor, Egypt, has six programmes ranked in the world’s top 100 in their subject.
The 2023 rankings, compiled by the global higher education analytics company QS Quacquarelli Symonds, compare the performance of more than 15,700 individual university programmes in 93 locations around the world, across 54 academic disciplines grouped into five broad subject areas.
This year, Saudi Arabia boasts the Arab region’s two highest-ranked entries, including the region’s only entry among the world’s top five. Namely, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals broke among the world’s top five for petroleum engineering (fourth globally), and among the world’s top 10 for mineral and mining engineering, placing ninth globally.
27 Saudi Programmes Among the World’s Top 100
The 2023 QS ranking offers comparisons on the performance of 112 programmes at 15 Saudi universities. Of Saudi Arabia’s total ranked programmes, 55 improved, seven declined and 29 remained unchanged since the previous year’s rankings by subject. Twenty-one programmes entered the rankings for the first time.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia boasts 18 entries this year in the five broad subject areas tables (Arts and Humanities, Engineering and Technology, Life Sciences and Medicine, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences and Management). Of these programmes, 16 improved and two remained unchanged since last year.
The kingdom recorded impressive movements at the top end of the tables, with seven subjects breaking into the world’s top 50, including one new entrant.
As before, King Abdulaziz University (KAU) was the country’s strongest institution, with 30 ranked programmes, including 11 in the top 100 worldwide. It was followed by King Saud University, with programmes in 23 subjects ranked (three in the top 100). King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) each had 16 programmes ranked, and each had six in the top 100.
With a total improvement percentage of 43 percent, Saudi Arabia is among the countries showing the most improvement. It registered the biggest improvement in the world among countries with 20 or more ranked subjects, putting it at the forefront of a positive trend in the Arab region, which is home to the world’s five most improved locations.
For the first time, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (IAU), formerly the University of Dammam, ranked in dentistry, placing 21st out of 80 programmes ranked.
King Abdulaziz University (KAU) also climbed 23 positions into the top 20 for pharmacy and pharmacology, to 14th overall. This discipline is Saudi Arabia’s most well-regarded subject among international academics, according to QS’s academic reputation survey, one of five metrics considered in the methodology for these rankings.
Moreover, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) climbed into the top 10 for mineral and mining engineering, placing ninth overall. It also rose into the top 50 for both chemical and civil engineering, in which it ranked 46th and 48th, respectively.
KAUST also ranked 18th for petroleum engineering thanks to significant gains in QS’s employer reputation indicator and more moderate progress in the academic reputation indicator, while King Saud University broke into the top 50 for petroleum engineering at 38th, up 13 places year-on-year.
KAU also was also in the top 50 for mathematics (31st), chemistry (41st) and computer science (50th).
As for research measures, Saudi Arabian programmes dominated the top end of the citations per paper indicator, which measures research impact. Of the Arab region’s top ten scores in this metric, all are in programmes at Saudi institutions, with the top six belonging to KAU.
In a news release, QS senior vice president Ben Sowter said: “Global employers and academics are taking note of Saudi Arabia’s universities and their increasing prowess as research hubs. Continuously enhancing their research quality and output, particularly in technology and sciences, alongside an overwhelming emphasis on international collaboration, has made them a shining example of success in this year’s subject rankings.”
The sustainability of the kingdom’s economy, however, remains uncertain, he added. “Modernisation, adaptation and innovation within its higher education system remain necessary if it hopes to upskill its workforce and enhance its economic diversification.”
Egypt: The Second Strongest Arab System
Egypt, meanwhile, retained its position as the Arab region’s second strongest higher education system. This year’s subject rankings offer data on the performance of 90 programmes at 13 Egyptian universities. Among those programmes, 22 improved, 17 declined and 41 remained unchanged from last year’s rankings. Ten programmes were ranked for the first time.
On this, Sowter said: “Egypt’s performance in this year’s rankings shows that it continues to enjoy growing esteem among employers and academics alike, but remains somewhat inefficient compared to its regional competitors, whether South Africa or Saudi Arabia.”
This year, Egypt boasts 16 entries in the five broad areas of studies tables. Of these, seven improved, five declined, and four remained unchanged year-on-year.
Cairo University is Egypt’s strongest institution by a significant margin, with programmes ranked in 27 subjects, more than double its two closest domestic competitors, Ain Shams University and Alexandria University, with 13 each.
Cairo University has the country’s only top 50 subject: petroleum engineering, ranked 40th in the world. This marks a significant step forward for the country, which had no subjects in this tier last year.
Petroleum engineering is Egypt’s strongest subject. Of its ten highest-ranked programmes, five are petroleum engineering, including those at Alexandria University and the American University in Cairo, both in a band ranked 51 to 100, and those at Tanta University and Al-Azhar University, both ranked 101–150.
Cairo University’s newly ranked veterinary science programme placed in the 51–70 band, the country’s second-highest ranking.
Medicine marks a subject of significant improvement for Egypt in terms of research quality and quantity, according to H-Index, another of the five performance indicators and a measure of a programme’s productivity and impact. Seven of the country’s ten most improved subjects in this metric are in medicine.
Computer science at Cairo University was Egypt’s most collaborative discipline, in terms of another metric, the international research network index. The Cairo University programme conducts 45 percent of its research alongside cross-border collaborators, more than double the global average.
Ain Shams University is home to two programmes in the world’s top 200: architecture, and pharmacy and pharmacology. Each ranked in the 151–200 band.
U.A.E. and Lebanese Universities Maintain Progress
Universities in the United Arab Emirates had 62 programmes in this year’s subject rankings, including five among the top 100 and one among the top 10 in their subject areas.
Despite Lebanon’s stifling financial crisis, programmes at 45 Lebanese universities secured their positions in the 2023 ranking, two of which were among the top 100 globally.
Jordan came fifth with 29 ranked programmes, including one in the top 100 in the world, followed by Qatar with 23 programmes, two of which were in the top 100. Oman came next, with 13 programmes, including one in the top 50.
Kuwait had 10 university programmes ranked, including two among the top 100 and one among the top 50 in their subject areas. The rankings also included nine Iraqi university programmes, one of which was among the top 100.
This year’s rankings also included three Bahraini programmes, and one each from universities in Sudan and Palestine.
Ten Arab countries are absent from this year’s rankings: Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.
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