Improved global rankings reflect strides being made by Saudi universities

Saudi students sit for their final high school exams in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. (AFP/File Photo)
Saudi students sit for their final high school exams in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 20 February 2021

Improved global rankings reflect strides being made by Saudi universities

Saudi students sit for their final high school exams in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Authorities want the Kingdom’s brightest school leavers to choose local universities over the foreign competition
  • Experts say higher education investment will benefit Saudi economy while boosting opportunities for women

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is making rapid strides in boosting its higher-education standards, with Riyadh’s Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University (PNU), one of the Kingdom’s most reputable institutions, recently leaping several spots up the world rankings.

The improvement by 59 points over its previous Universitas Indonesia (UI) GreenMetric World University Ranking makes the PNU the second best in the Kingdom, fourth in the Middle East and 79th globally for its commitment to environmental sustainability.

The annual ranking assesses 912 universities in 94 countries on their sustainability and eco-friendly practices, relying on six main indicators: infrastructure, energy, waste, water, transportation and the level of education.




Riyadh’s Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University (PNU), one of the Kingdom’s most reputable institutions. (Supplied)

According to the Saudi Education and Training Evaluation Commission, using 2019 data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), students at the PNU and other academic institutions in the Kingdom are scoring progressively better grades.

“It is quite clear that there is a real determination on the part of the Saudi authorities to engage in more high-level academic research because this increases the rating of a university considerably,” Judith Finnemore, an education consultant in the UAE, told Arab News.

“The Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University has always been at the forefront of tertiary education, so I am really pleased to see this recognized. Because there is a great deal of checking by the awarding body, there is every reason to believe the figures are accurate.”

The PNU is the largest university for women in the world, with 39,000 students and more than 2,000 faculty members. Named after the sister of the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdul Aziz, it was established in 1970 as the first College of Education for women in Saudi Arabia.




The PNU is the largest university for women in the world, with 39,000 students and more than 2,000 faculty members. (AFP/File Photo)

Improving the quality of higher education has become a top priority for Saudi authorities to counteract the “brain drain” effect of the loss of the Kingdom’s most talented students to top foreign universities.

“The caliber of university study was fairly suspect and academic rigor not exactly in the league of foreign universities,” Finnemore said. “Universities like the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) led the way and the bar rose considerably.”

Raising standards means the best school leavers will pick local universities, confident they will receive a first-rate degree. Consequently, academics of a higher caliber will find teaching at Saudi universities more fulfilling in a process that is bound to enrich the Kingdom’s knowledge economy.

“Graduates who qualify in Saudi Arabia are more likely to be attracted to high-level jobs and this improves the economy,” Finnemore said. “Since the country has such a high percentage of its population under 30, this is especially important.”

Improvements in local higher education could benefit women in particular. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy envisages a big increase in the female workforce, by as much as 30 percent over the next decade.

THENUMBER

4th

* UI GreenMetric’s Middle East ranking for Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University.

Recent figures show that the Kingdom is well on the way to reaching that target, with women accounting for at least 23.5 percent of the private-sector workforce.

“There are already some very talented Saudi businesswomen and academics,” said Finnemore. “I would hope they are able to form the bulk of faculty at their own universities and set the model for school leavers.”

Her view is backed by Natasha Ridge, executive director at the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in Ras Al-Khaimah, UAE, who thinks the planned improvements will benefit women and check the brain-drain phenomenon.

“These moves speak to the continued improvement of the performance of women in higher education and the need to continue to support not only their tertiary education but also their integration into the labor market,” she told Arab News.

“The sector has improved tremendously and has many high-quality universities today that did not exist in the past. The Kingdom has been investing in bringing top talent from around the world to work in its higher-education sector and we are now seeing the fruits of this.

“Whereas in the past, Saudis had to study abroad to receive a high-quality education, they now have several excellent options inside the Kingdom.”




Foreign student Shayma, attending the French International Lycée in Riyadh, studies at home on March 23, 2020 as schools in Saudi Arabia are closed amidst the corona virus COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP/File Photo)

For Stephen King, a media lecturer at Middlesex University Dubai, the rapid rise of the PNU in the world rankings represents a sea change in the culture around higher education.

“The ‘traditional’ global university rankings (GURs), which continue to guide education strategy, have a number of well-known weaknesses, one being the importance placed on research submitted to English-language journals,” King told Arab News.

“Profit-led academic institutions have been criticized within academic literature for placing too great a value in being placed within these GUR tables, as this assists in the marketing of their programs.

“Pursuit of research unsurprisingly then becomes a priority over the other valuable contributions that academia can provide, such as in helping to build a community that can address the challenges of sustainable development.”




A man and woman walk at the campus of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in Saudi Arabia's western Red Sea town of Thuwal. (AFP/File Photo)

By contrast, the UI GreenMetric Ranking aims to motivate universities to think about sustainability in their research, teaching and how they manage their campuses.

As a member of Middlesex University Dubai’s Institute of Sustainable Development, a Teach SDGs Ambassador, a Climate Reality Volunteer Leader and a member of the Board of Advisors at AIESEC UAE, King believes this metric better reflects institutions’ commitment to the issues that matter.

“It provides recognition for universities who move beyond a purely research-for-profit motivation, and who walk the talk,” he said.

“The impact of the PNU’s growth in the rankings offers evidence that the students, faculty and management are contributing to current social and environmental concerns, or are being equipped to address future challenges, and that this is a deliberate and sincere policy decision rather than an attempt at improving the campus’ image through short-term philanthropic acts.”




Saudi Arabia has worked hard to close the gap between its universities’ output in different fields and the changing requirements of the job market. As part of its Vision 2030, the Kingdom helps its students navigate their chosen career paths. (AFP/File Photo)

Looking forward, Finnemore believes changing the culture around education in Saudi Arabia needs to start before students reach university age. The propensity for learning by rote in many schools “seriously” limits the capacity of universities to become beacons of innovation rivalling the likes of MIT, she says.

“The country is in the throes of much economic innovation, so there does need to be feed-through from schools,” she said.

For her part, Ridge expects the Kingdom’s higher-education sector to go from strength to strength. Nevertheless, she believes the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region faces some common challenges in developing the humanities, science, technology, engineering and mathematics streams.

“To overcome this, continuous investment will be crucial, as will be continuous support of the arts and induction of high-quality faculty into all disciplines,” she added.




Education consultant Judith Finnemore believes changing the culture around education in Saudi Arabia needs to start before students reach university age. (AFP/File Photo)

Saudi Arabia has worked hard to close the gap between its universities’ output in different fields and the changing requirements of the job market. As part of its Vision 2030, the Kingdom helps its students navigate their chosen career paths.

By 2030, Saudi Arabia aims to have at least five of its universities among the top 200 universities in international rankings. To this end, it is preparing a modern curriculum focused on rigorous standards in literacy, numeracy, skills and character development, while tracking students’ progress and working closely with the private sector to ensure higher-education outcomes are in line with employers’ demands.

The Kingdom is also investing in strategic partnerships with apprenticeship providers, new skills councils and big private concerns, while building a centralized student database tracking their performance from early childhood through to K-12 and beyond.

The benefits are expected to be felt in everything from educational planning and monitoring to evaluation and outcomes.

----------------

Twitter: @CalineMalek

 


KSrelief launches medical campaign in Djibouti

KSrelief launches medical campaign in Djibouti
Updated 13 min 4 sec ago

KSrelief launches medical campaign in Djibouti

KSrelief launches medical campaign in Djibouti

DJIBOUTI: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) has launched a voluntary medical campaign for specialized surgeries in Djibouti.

The center’s medical team has to date performed 41 urinary tract operations on children in the east African country and provided the necessary treatment for 60 other cases.

The health initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s relief and humanitarian efforts, through the center, to help crisis-hit countries and the suffering of people around the world.
 


Aid chief thanks Saudi Arabia for supporting Yemen relief program

Aid chief thanks Saudi Arabia for supporting Yemen relief program
Updated 16 min 42 sec ago

Aid chief thanks Saudi Arabia for supporting Yemen relief program

Aid chief thanks Saudi Arabia for supporting Yemen relief program

JEDDAH: World Food Program (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley expressed his sincere thanks to Saudi Arabia for providing effective food support through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) to the most vulnerable groups in Yemen.

Beasley noted that the Kingdom’s contribution through the center will “undoubtedly help to avert famine in Yemen and feed at least 2.2 million people.”

KSrelief signed a $40 million joint cooperation agreement with the WFP on Tuesday to improve food security for the most affected families in Yemen.

“We have a lot of work to do now and in the future, and this agreement will provide us with the tremendous support we need,” the executive director said in a press release.

He added that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has brought many tragedies and much economic degradation across the globe, and this support will make a big difference “as the pandemic has greatly affected vulnerable groups and exacerbated the problem of famine in the world."

The living conditions in Yemen are among the most difficult in the world, he said.
 


Saudi crown prince undergoes successful appendicitis surgery

Saudi crown prince undergoes successful appendicitis surgery
Updated 6 min 13 sec ago

Saudi crown prince undergoes successful appendicitis surgery

Saudi crown prince undergoes successful appendicitis surgery
  • The crown prince left the hospital later on Wednesday

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman underwent a successful surgical procedure on Wednesday morning to treat appendicitis at King Faisal Specialist Hospital, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The crown prince left the hospital later on Wednesday. 


Forget the cost, Saudi love affair with oud makes perfect scents

Forget the cost, Saudi love affair with oud makes perfect scents
Updated 24 February 2021

Forget the cost, Saudi love affair with oud makes perfect scents

Forget the cost, Saudi love affair with oud makes perfect scents
  • Fans of traditional fragrance stay loyal despite fast-rising prices

RIYADH: The traditional scent of oud enjoys an enduring popularity among Saudis, but high prices and uncertainty about quality are making many think twice before buying it.

Oud is extracted during winter from trees aged between 70 and 150 years and growing up to 20 meters in height.

These trees generally grow in tropical areas in Asia, especially on mountains and hillsides in India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Gulf countries are the major importers of oud.

Wood oud emits an enjoyable fragrance when burned. Made of aromatic plants, wood oud has been increasingly mixed with aromatic oils in recent years. In Saudi Arabia, people often put wood oud in an electronic incense burner to deliver the desired fragrance.

Bader Al-Mansuri, a Saudi consumer, said that oud is an important tradition in Saudi society and is used for special social occasions as well as religious events, such as the Friday prayer.

Cambodian oud is the go-to option for most Saudis when shopping for the traditional fragrance, followed by the Morki and Kalamantan.

“My favorite is Cambodian oud, which I have been using for a long time,” Al-Mansuri told Arab News. “It’s part of our family tradition and culture, and my grandparents used it and passed it down to us. Oud has a positive moral impact, and is a sign of generosity and respect when you have visitors.”

Al-Mansuri that he only buys oud from well-known brands and companies.

Hammad Al-Shouraihi, another consumer, is a regular user of oud and buys 2 kg every year at a cost ranging from SR4,500 ($1,200) to SR6,000.

“When the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) emerged, I bought oud off websites instead of going to incense shops,” he said, adding that it is difficult to judge the quality of oud bought online since the buyer cannot test the fragrance.

In addition to Cambodian oud, Al-Shouraihi also enjoys the Morki variety as well as other types with mixed substances.

“Vintage Cambodian oud, which is stored for longer periods, is the best. It is an ideal gift for friends or family members,” he said. “I love all perfumes that have oud fragrance or scent. The pandemic has affected oud purchases due to the way it is used and fears that it can transmit the virus.”

However, Ahmed Al-Mutairi believes the pandemic has had little impact on the oud industry.

He buys 100 gm of liquid oud and quarter a kilo of wood oud, paying about SR5,000 for his purchases every year.

“Some oud vendors on streets demand a high price, but they reduce the price to half after one bargains with them,” Al-Mutair told Arab News.

Hassan Al-Rashdi, a sales officer at Nada Oud Store, said that sales reach 5 kg  some days and 10 kg other days.

“Some people prefer different types of oud qualities,” he added, noting that a kilogram of oud can range between SR500-SR5,000, based on its quality and origin.

Al-Rashdi told Arab News that some Saudis prefer the Kalamantan variety. However, he believes Morki oud is the most popular incense for parties, official events and use in mosques.

Khalid Al-Johani, the owner of an online oud store, agrees that Morki oud is the most popular variety among his clients, followed by Kalamantan and Indian in terms of quality.

According to Al-Johani, Indian liquid oud is preferred by the elderly, though Thai oud is fast gaining in popularity.

“To judge the quality of oud, one should check the scent, weight, color and size,” he said.

“Most people buy oud based on the recommendations of others. But experts always check the quality of oud products inside out and ask about the substances inside and the structure.”

Women often prefer liquid mixtures, while men prefer wood oud, Al-Johani said.

Some people are superstitious and believe that oud can cast out devils and genies, he said. However, people say they feel “relieved” and “in good mood” after they smell incense.

Most sales take place before and during Ramadan as well as Eid Al-Adha holidays, he added.

Zaid Al-Qaoud, chairman of Oud Albaraka, said that sales of oud have plummeted in the past year due to the absence of parties and weddings.

“Sales have fallen by 80 percent compared with the previous years,” he told Arab News. “Demand has also decreased because of coronavirus and many people have turned to social media websites to buy oud.”

Most oud stores can be found in central Riyadh, which has about 400 outlets, he added.

“Indonesian oud is very popular in the Gulf region and is the main source of many types of oud in the market that come with different scents.”

He added that old oud gives a better and more beautiful smell than newer products.

It can be difficult for regular consumers to distinguish a high-quality oud from an inferior product. “People have different tastes for oud, but most of them cannot tell original oud from a false one.”

Al-Qaoud, who has been in the business for 20 years, said that many Europeans in Saudi Arabia understand the quality of oud, recalling a regular French customer who said: “I have never smelled a sweet smell like the Taif roses and oud oil.”

Ayed Al-Falih, who is interested in artefacts, said incense burners are made of a type of wood found in Hail farms, with a price ranging between SR100 and SR500.


Saudi, Somali envoys discuss OIC cooperation

Saudi, Somali envoys discuss OIC cooperation
Updated 24 February 2021

Saudi, Somali envoys discuss OIC cooperation

Saudi, Somali envoys discuss OIC cooperation
  • The envoys discussed ways to enhance their cooperation

JEDDAH: Saleh Hamad Al-Suhaibani, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), met with his Somali counterpart Dr. Abdur Razzaq Sead Abdi on Wednesday.

The envoys discussed ways to enhance their cooperation as the OIC aims to serve Islamic causes in the midst of current challenges.

The two sides also discussed areas of joint Islamic action and how to best serve the OIC and its 35 active bodies and institutions. Al-Suhaibani said cooperation and coordination among the organization's bodies are a top priority for Saudi Arabia.

Abdi stressed the importance of lasting peace, stability and development within Somalia. He also praised the Kingdom for the humanitarian support and developmental contributions it provides to the Somali people.