I have been working in the field of education since 2003, and before that, people would enquire with me about universities because I have been an international student almost all my life; the same comments arise, is it a ranked university? Is it high quality? What’s the employment rate for its graduates? Is the country safe? Are the people nice? Are the programmes offered linked to industry and so on, so I had assumed that the people are so wary about these facts and built my consultancy around it.

The mushrooming of the universities in GCC was a real phenomenon, the various ones that had sprung up in a 4-bedroom apartment, with two shelves of books and teachers that shake their heads when they speak, who have no previous teaching experience, I can go on and on, but I will stop here.  Despite all of this the people who had previously questioned me about why I am choosing a particular university for their son or daughter, they themselves placed him/her in these joints.  Of course, the disaster struck, some students found out that they cannot apply to a master’s programme, some found out that they cannot practice medicine, some are working as hospitality employees rather than dentists; some were stranded as the university closed down and packed up and gone. There is no ranking system, and to top it all up, find out if any of these local universities are in any international list? I don’t think so either.

The gulf and the Middle East do not feature in any rankings, and if we talk about research, does not even represent 1% of one single small university in the world.  Also, branches of international universities lower their acceptance criteria and their high standards when they open in the Gulf, whether it being in research, in quality of teachers, or in a number of books available to the students in the library. I worked in one of these international universities, and the students would fight over a single book per subject that is placed in the library, even us the teachers didn’t have our own set, in one of the subjects I had to ring the main campus to send me a photocopy of what they have, and in turn I photocopied the book to the students.   Well don’t ask about the local support services either, for example in the smallest university overseas you will find a bookshop, a clinic, gardens, gym, many cafes and restaurants, over here these are scarce.  The university doesn’t want to make it easy for the students, nor does it want to encourage local businesses to open on its campuses.

My question here is why didn’t the parents ask the same questions to the local universities? Did they assume that a higher authority is going to look after these facts? I personally will not depend on a higher authority for this, unless of course, I witnessed a track record?  For example, there are conflicting bodies, one that provides the assurance, and one that provides the attestation, so the latter will not attest it, as the assurance did not qualify with its standards.  What do we do? I have no idea.  But, having said that I think all of us the educators have the responsibility to speak up and tell everybody to be careful, to evaluate, to compare and to think of 4 years down the lane when their kid’s graduate.

I realised, of course, that to be considered for the overall THES World University Rankings, institutions must:

  • Produce a minimum of 200 publications per year (articles, notes, reviews), on average over a five-year period
  • Have undergraduate and doctoral students (so should not be a graduate-only school)
  • Not be a single subject school such as a medical or business school (though exceptions are made in certain cases where an institution may be included in the THE Subject Ranking)

However, as the database deepens, and more regional, or subject-level or specialist analyses become possible, so institutions with different profiles can be included on a discretionary basis.

To be included in any rankings, the universities in the Arab world must produce research that is compatible with the west, as well as this research has to be cited. For example, Egypt had almost 6000 research papers and these were cited almost 22000 times in various researches by students and researchers. Bahrain, on the other hand, had almost 500 research papers cited 1623 times by researchers.  In QS ranking universities will be ranked depending on their research and it should have a high rating, and to compare with the rest of the world, one needs to multiply the figures above by at least a 100.

We all have a responsibility to encourage our students, our universities and our government to publish, and that to any type of research in order to be compared with the rest of the world.

Being included in rankings, we need to have a different set of parameters that will make our universities comparable to the west. These parameters are not only in research, it’s in employability after graduation with reputable employers, the reputation of the institution, staff/student ratio, staff with PhDs and much more.

I have mentioned here only two ranking bodies, mainly THES and QS, there is also Shanghai ranking, Daily Telegraph, Newsweek, UK league tables, and many others.  We all need to research them to ensure that the students are placed at the right university.

However, not every student can go or can afford to go to ranked university, in that case, we choose correctly to suit the circumstances of the students.