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

 


Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 391,362
  • A total of 6,858 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 12 deaths from COVID-19 and 1028 new infections on Wednesday.
Of the new cases, 431 were recorded in Riyadh, 220 in Makkah, 157 in the the Eastern Province, 45 in Madinah, 45 in Asir, 30 in Jazan, 25 in Tabuk, 14 in the Northern Borders region, 13 in Najran, 11 in Hail and 10 in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 391,362 after 824 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 6,858 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 7.5 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Saudi Arabia to date.


Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
Updated 21 April 2021

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
  • Room is fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the machines to move about and take food to customers

MAKKAH: We’ve all been there … you order a meal in a restaurant, and the waiter arrives with a pasta salad instead of a chicken biryani.
There are no such issues at Restaurant Robot in Jazan. As the name suggests, the waiters are not fallible human beings, but robots powered by sophisticated artificial intelligence.
Six robot assistants are operating in the city center restaurant to deliver trays of Asian dishes to patrons. The system was originally set up as a precaution to reduce human contact during the coronavirus pandemic, but it has proved a hit with visitors.
In a system designed by young Saudi engineer Reham Omar, the restaurant interior has been fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the robots to move about and take food to customers.
“Thanks to the sensors, the robots can sense anything standing near them, allowing them to stop walking or change their routes accordingly,” she told Arab News
“Each robot has had a map of the restaurant interior and the location of each table programmed into their memory. When the robot gets to the targeted table, customers can pick up their food and order the robot to leave.”
Omar said the idea had been developed by drawing on the experiences of other countries, and with support from the Saudi government for the food industry.
“We are proud of our project, as small as it is,” she said. “Customers are loving the robots and are impressed with the idea.
“Cultures are changing, and people are now eager to discover new technologies that can improve their quality of life.”


Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
  • OPCW oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention
  • The Kingdom has been a member of the council since 1997

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been re-elected as a member of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in the Asia section, until 2023.
It happened at The Hague, in the Netherlands, on Tuesday during the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties, which oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Ziyad Al-Attiyah, the Saudi ambassador to the Netherlands and the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the OPCW, thanked the nations that supported the re-election of his country, and said that it is a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s status under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 
The Kingdom looks forward to working with the rest of the council’s members to enhance the implementation of the CWC, he added.
Al-Attiyah affirmed his country’s desire to strengthen cooperation as part of the efforts to prohibit weapons of mass destruction and prevent their proliferation, and to ensure the Middle East becomes a region free of such weapons to enhance international peace and security.
He added that the Kingdom’s chemical industries sector is one of the largest in the region and growing steadily, which makes it one of the leading countries in this field among the membership of Executive Council.
Saudi Arabia has been a member of the council — the main body of the OPCW — since its inception in 1997. It’s membership is made up of 41 countries, representing five geographic areas, that are elected for terms of two years at a time.


Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia renewed its call for Iran to engage in ongoing negotiations in Vienna, avoid escalation and not expose the region to more tension.
This came following a council of ministers meeting, chaired by King Salman on Tuesday.

The Cabinet reiterated that it is closely following the current developments related to Iran's nuclear program, citing the emphasis of the Kingdom's call for Iran to get involved in the current negotiations, prevent escalation and desist from jeopardizing the regional security and stability to further tension. 
The Saudi government also urged the international community to reach an agreement with stronger and longer determinants that are implemented through monitoring and control measures to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons and developing the necessary capabilities.

The Cabinet also renewed condemnation of the Iran-backed Houthi terrorist militia's attempts to target civilians as well as civilian facilities in the Kingdom in a systematic and intentional manner, through using bomb laden drones and ballistic missiles.


Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects. (SPA)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
  • The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries

JEDDAH: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) on Tuesday confirmed 34 cases of blood clots or thrombosis and low platelet count among people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The authority suggests the existence of seven possible cases of thrombosis that are related to the vaccine, due to the absence of other reasons for the appearance of clots in them,” the SFDA said in a statement.
However, the authority also said that thrombocytopenia and blood-clotting immune response associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is yet to be confirmed in these cases.
It said based on the local reports received, the rate of occurrence of these symptoms in conjunction with the administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the Kingdom is “very rare.”
The SFDA said that all approved vaccines for the coronavirus (COVID-19) being used in the Kingdom are safe. It stressed that the desired benefits of the vaccine in question outweigh the potential risks.
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects along with the local and international scientific evidence and data available.

FASTFACTS

• The Kingdom reports a 55 percent increase in the number of cases among women.

• 1,070 new infections were reported on Tuesday.

The SFDA advised recipients of the vaccine to consult a doctor or go to the nearest health center if any of the following symptoms appear or continue for more than three days after receiving a vaccine: Dizziness, severe and persistent headache, nausea or vomiting, issues with vision, shortness of breath, severe pain in the chest or abdomen or coldness in the extremities, swelling of the legs, small blood spots under the skin other than the injection site.
Dr. Abdullah Asiri, an infectious diseases consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Health, allayed public fears following the reports.
“How can a wrong conclusion deduced from a generalization become the most circulated news?” he wrote on Twitter. “In short, not every blood clotting after vaccinations is due to vaccinations. Thanks to vaccines, lives are saved every day. We have not yet had confirmed cases of platelet deficiency and blood clotting immune responses associated ‘hypothetically’ with COVID-19 vaccines.”
Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, a Ministry of Health spokesman, said: “We are still monitoring an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, which is the highest since the beginning of this year. There has also been an increase in cases among females by 55 percent.”
The Ministry of Health reported 1,070 new confirmed cases in the Kingdom over the past 24 hours, meaning 407,010 people have now contracted the virus. Of the 9,626 active cases, 1,105 were in critical condition. There were 12 fatalities, which brought the national death toll to 6,846.
The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries.