What Saudi domination of Arab university rankings table signifies

Four Saudi universities have claimed the top five positions in a new ranking of Arab academic institutions. (Social Media)
Four Saudi universities have claimed the top five positions in a new ranking of Arab academic institutions. (Social Media)
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Updated 23 August 2021

What Saudi domination of Arab university rankings table signifies

Four Saudi universities have claimed the top five positions in a new ranking of Arab academic institutions. (Social Media)
  • Investments pays off as Saudi institutions dominate Times Higher Education’s Arab University Rankings 2021
  • Experts say there is still room for improvement in vocational training, teaching, graduate jobs and locally conducted research

DUBAI: Four Saudi universities have claimed the top five positions in a new ranking of Arab academic institutions, a sign that investment in higher education is paying off.

King Abdulaziz University took first place in the table produced by Times Higher Education, followed by Thuwal’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and Alkhobar’s Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University in third and fourth respectively. Dammam’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals took fifth place, followed by Riyadh’s King Saud University in eighth.

Saudi Arabia’s achievements are, however, not quite reflective of the Arab world as a whole, according to experts who say the Middle East still has a long way to go to build a strong and sustainable higher-education system.

“Saudi Arabia has been building up research capacity across multiple institutions, and recruiting some of the best and brightest academics from across the world,” Natasha Ridge, executive director at the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in Ras Al-Khaimah in the UAE, told Arab News.

“This investment over time is really starting to pay off. This is coupled with the opening up of the Kingdom to tourism, which more generally has meant that it’s no longer an isolated enclave but a vibrant and connected country that can now attract both students and faculty from across the world,” she said.




Judith Finnemore, an education consultant in the UAE, believes that Saudi Arabia’s higher-education success story is rooted in its recent drive to attract international expertise and develop quality research infrastructure. (AFP/File Photo)

“You can see that Saudi Arabia has the majority of universities in the top 10 of every category, indicating a holistic approach to higher education.”

Judith Finnemore, an education consultant in the UAE, believes that Saudi Arabia’s higher-education success story is rooted in its recent drive to attract international expertise and develop quality research infrastructure, which were once the exclusive preserve of institutions in the West.

“It has done this because it realizes that shoveling its school leavers off to foreign universities isn’t conducive to alleviating the brain drain,” Finnemore told Arab News.

“They were seeing a ‘finished product’ but not realizing the advantages of having innovation and research available in-country.”




Saudi Arabia, along with other GCC countries, could well become the trailblazers in achieving the ambitious goal of combining higher education and sustainable development. (AFP/File Photo)

Ridge said there are currently far too many students studying just a handful of subjects such as business administration, and not enough opting for courses in psychology and education — sectors in urgent need of more graduates.

This is partly the result of low funding for research in social sciences, especially relating to the public sector, such as education, urban planning and public health, among others.

“We still need a lot more locally conducted research on issues particular to the region so that policymakers can be more effective,” Ridge said.

Also, once students graduate they often leave university without the skills sought by employers.

“There’s a lack of vocational education and colleges to train people in trades and other more applied fields,” Ridge said.

Although university staff are often paid well, long teaching hours can take away from other important aspects of their work.

ARAB UNIVERSITYRANKINGS 2021

1 King Abdulaziz University (KSA)

2 Qatar University (Qatar)

3 King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KSA)

4 Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University (KSA)

5 King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KSA)

6 Khalifa University (UAE)

7 United Arab Emirates University (UAE)

8 King Saud University (KSA)

9 American University of Beirut (Lebanon)

10 Zewail City of Science and Technology (Egypt)

“While some countries and universities can pay high salaries to attract high-performing faculty, many can’t, and on top of that they require faculty to have very high teaching loads, which then limits the amount of research they can do,” Ridge said.

“This then impacts the rankings of the universities if faculty aren’t publishing enough papers.”

While there have been enormous strides in the adoption of technology in further education, Finnemore said access to digital learning and research aids is by no means guaranteed across the region.

“In all societies, the need for on-the-go education provided by distance learning and apps is taking off globally,” she added.

“This will enable learning to be real and much more useful to the workforce than turning out batches of graduates who then go out to seek work.”




With their large youth populations and the advantage of oil wealth, GCC countries could avoid the “baggage” of traditional educational approaches and create a school-to-workforce pipeline that propels industries ahead of the rest of the world. (Supplied)

Although the quality and availability of higher education will no doubt continue to improve, especially in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, these nations can only stand to benefit if enough graduate jobs are created and if students themselves pursue degrees in a wider variety of disciplines.

“In the longer-established systems such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, there have been ongoing concerns about the employability of graduates and the number of people pursuing a university education and then being unemployed,” Ridge said.

“Without a strong and culturally valued vocational sector, low-quality institutions will keep producing graduates who then can’t find work and feel disillusioned about their future, leading to social unrest.”

There are signs, though, that students are adapting. The COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, has forced young people to embrace different learning formats.

“But there isn’t necessarily a wholesale take-up from more traditional faculty reluctant to relinquish the lecturing role,” Finnemore said.

“If more fluid structures do evolve, I can see this as a way to ensure a greatly more educated workforce, because the less rigid approach could appeal to a far wider spread of the population, like women and rural dwellers, among others.”

Such work is crucial as the GCC states transition to a more knowledge-based economy. With their large youth populations and the advantage of oil wealth, these countries could avoid the “baggage” of traditional educational approaches and create a school-to-workforce pipeline that propels industries ahead of the rest of the world. “This is what happened in places like Singapore, and look where they are,” Finnemore said.

Ridge said: “Without high-performing higher-education institutions, countries in the Middle East will have to keep depending on expertise from elsewhere, whether paid for by aid programs or by their own governments. This isn’t sustainable or efficient for the future of the region.”




Four universities in Saudi Arabia have claimed the top five positions in a new ranking of academic institutions across the Arab world. (AFP/File Photo)

Put another way, the entire sustainable development agenda in the Middle East must be built on the solid foundations of a top-notch higher-education sector.

Saudi Arabia, along with other GCC countries, could well become the trailblazers in achieving this ambitious goal.

Take Riyadh’s Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, the largest women’s university in the world. Recently, it became the first university in Saudi Arabia to win accreditation to award its staff the Advance HE Fellowship upon completion of its Academic Excellence Program.

Led by staff at its Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, under the umbrella of the Academic Development Deanship, PNU has been working toward accreditation for the past three years, establishing a strong team of fellows as part of a growing fellowship community of almost 150,000.

“We’re delighted to have achieved accreditation for the AEP, a professional development and recognition scheme,” Ola Elshurafa, an academic consultant and AEP scheme leader at the CETL, and herself a senior fellow, told Arab News.

“This achievement is a significant milestone in our work toward teaching excellence across PNU by recognizing and rewarding the commitment of individuals in their continuous professional development,” she said.

“We’re committed to supporting PNU faculty and staff in their journey toward quality education, in light of international standards, for the improvement of student learning and achievement.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


International community condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia

International community condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia
Updated 24 sec ago

International community condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia

International community condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: The UAE, Bahrain, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Thursday joined a chorus of international condemnation of a failed ballistic missile attack by the Iran-backed Houthis on civilians in Saudi Arabia.

OIC Secretary-General Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen praised the efficiency of Saudi-led coalition air defenses in intercepting and destroying the missile before it reached Jazan in the southwest of the Kingdom.

He renewed his call for the international community to take decisive action to stop the ongoing threats from ballistic missile and bomb-laden drone attacks by Houthis operating from Yemen.

Al-Othaimeen pointed out that the OIC considered the militia group’s actions to be war crimes and a challenge to international humanitarian law.

Coalition forces supporting Yemen’s legitimate government on Wednesday thwarted another wave of Houthi drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia that came two days after an attempted boat-bomb strike was foiled in Hodeidah.

The UAE and Bahrain condemned the latest attacks and gave their full backing to measures taken by Saudi Arabia to protect its security, stability, and the safety of its citizens.

In a statement, the coalition said Saudi air defenses on Wednesday intercepted and destroyed three explosive-laden drones launched by the Houthis toward the southern city of Khamis Mushayt. One drone had been launched in the morning, and the other two later in the day.


Bahrain, UAE radio join in on Saudi National Day celebrations

Bahrain, UAE radio join in on Saudi National Day celebrations
Updated 16 min 51 sec ago

Bahrain, UAE radio join in on Saudi National Day celebrations

Bahrain, UAE radio join in on Saudi National Day celebrations

BAHRAIN/SHARJAH: Bahraini radio and television stations have joined Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day celebrations with various programs commemorating the day.

Radio and television hosts gathered several personalities from both nations, discussing the relations between the two brotherly countries, their shared history, achievements, and more.

Also joining in on the celebrations is the UAE’s Sharjah Radio, which has allocated various programs about the Kingdom, including historical, religious, cultural aspects that distinguish Saudi Arabia.

Sharjah Radio Director Abeer Al-Shawi congratulated the Kingdom’s leadership on the occasion of Saudi National Day, adding that the radio station has dedicated many of the day’s broadcasts to cover various topics about the country.


Saudi project clears 1,351 Houthi mines in Yemen

Saudi project clears 1,351 Houthi mines in Yemen
Updated 20 min 1 sec ago

Saudi project clears 1,351 Houthi mines in Yemen

Saudi project clears 1,351 Houthi mines in Yemen
  • A total of 275,305 mines have been cleared since the start of the project

RIYADH: The Saudi Project for Landmine Clearance dismantled 1,351 mines in Yemen during the third week of September.

The figure comprised 13 antipersonnel mines, 432 anti-tank mines, 905 unexploded ordnances, and one explosive device.

The project is one of several initiatives undertaken by Saudi Arabia on the directive of King Salman to help ease the suffering of people in Yemen.

Saudi and international experts are removing mines planted by the Houthi militia in Marib, Aden, Al-Jawf, Shabwa, Taiz, Hodeidah, Lahij, Sanaa, Al-Bayda, Al-Dhale, and Saada.

A total of 275,305 mines have been cleared since the start of the project. More than 1.2 million mines have been planted by the Houthis, claiming the lives of hundreds of civilians.


Growing demands for compulsory pre-marital addiction testing in Saudi Arabia

Growing demands for compulsory pre-marital addiction testing in Saudi Arabia
Updated 27 min 1 sec ago

Growing demands for compulsory pre-marital addiction testing in Saudi Arabia

Growing demands for compulsory pre-marital addiction testing in Saudi Arabia
  • It is necessary in building healthy society and will significantly impact divorce, domestic violence rates, says expert

JEDDAH: Pre-marital addiction tests have become a public demand in Saudi Arabia after two homicides committed by men against their young wives in August.
The Saudi Public Prosecution announced the arrest of the perpetrators, adding that the necessary legal actions were taken against them.
But these incidents have sparked discussions across different social media platforms in the Kingdom, with many people calling for compulsory pre-marital addiction tests and psychological evaluations of the mental health of both potential spouses.
Saudi authorities already require pre-marital screening for couples to detect common genetic blood disorders and infectious diseases.
However, calls to expand pre-marital testing to include psychological evaluations are nothing new, with many people arguing that their inclusion would be a successful way to tackle addiction and protect the family unit.
The most recent action to expand the pre-marital testing program was taken within the Kingdom’s Shoura Council in 2019, where some members proposed the inclusion of addiction tests, as well as tests for disorders and mental illnesses.
The proposal was denied because it did not receive enough supporting votes. The objection was supported by some specialists, who said that such tests have low accuracy and are prohibitively expensive.
Nonetheless, drug tests are already required in the case of non-Saudi men marrying Saudi women. Some specialists are now calling to include that requirement in overall pre-marital tests for both Saudis and non-Saudis, and both men and women.
Suzan Abdulsalam Khalil, a psychologist working with the protection unit against domestic violence in Jeddah, strongly supports pre-marital drug testing to detect addiction.
According to Khalil, this change will lead to the early detection of abusers and addicts. “It will protect young women from unknowingly getting married to an addict or mentally ill man, which would be a traumatizing experience for them and harms both parties, but most importantly the woman. Moreover, the situation worsens when there are children involved,” she told Arab News.
From her experience at the protection unit, Khalil has witnessed the devastating impact of a drug-addicted parent on children within the family.
“The behavior of drug users varies greatly before and after they take their dose, and unfortunately, this unstable situation badly affects the children and the family as a whole,” she said. “The psychological evaluation of children of an addict parent is always bad. We also find physical violence marks sometimes, traces of injuries, and bruises on their bodies, and sometimes we refer them to psychiatric hospitals.”
Khalil believes that expanding pre-marital testing is a necessary step in building a healthy society. It will significantly impact divorce and domestic violence rates and will also force addicts to receive treatment and professional help, she said.
She added that women’s reactions to being married to an addict can differ. Some choose divorce, while others try to be patient. But this can result in living an unstable life that includes physical or emotional abuse, which will eventually have an extremely negative impact on children, she said.

HIGHLIGHT

• Saudi authorities already require pre-marital screening for couples to detect common genetic blood disorders and infectious diseases.

• The program aims to give medical consultations on the potential transmitting of disorders to future children, and looks to provide couples with options that help them plan for a healthy family.

• However, calls to expand pre-marital testing to include psychological evaluations are nothing new, with many people arguing that their inclusion would be a successful way to tackle addiction and protect the family unit.

Various factors contribute to this complicated situation; however, the social stigma and shame attached to addiction and mental illness leads to negative social norms.
As a result, people with substance use disorder, and sometimes their families, tend to hide the reality behind their situation when it comes to marriage.
Furthermore, lack of awareness about the seriousness of mental health issues contributes to the continuation of unhealthy marriages and damaging social behaviors when dealing with mentally ill members of society.
Therefore, experts say that an action plan to spread awareness and change the culture is urgently needed.
Khalil said that parents, before agreeing to marry their daughter to a proposing man, usually try to investigate the man’s background, manners and moral standards within his work environment and friendship circles.
“But on the other hand, no one ever considers asking about the man’s mental health status or whether he has been diagnosed with a mental illness at any hospital,” she said.
The discussion surrounding an expansion of pre-marital screening highlights a more significant issue for marriage counselor and family therapist Abdulhakim Al-Yousef.
He believes that the real issue underlying the public debate is not whether or not to enforce addiction testing of couples before marriage, but the problematic idea of the possibility of entering a marital relationship with someone with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
“It is rather more related to the many details that addicts to alcohol or drugs should be aware of, including those close to them,” Al-Yousef told Arab News. “It is important to understand that arriving at the phase of addiction is entering a state of mental illness that requires medical treatment and professional help, therefore entering a marital relationship at this phase is a very serious problem.”
He noted that addiction treatment requires patient admission to a rehab facility to receive appropriate treatment programs for their situation and recovery. It consists of several stages that need commitment, willingness, patience and family support.
He said: “Addiction treatment is a very sensitive matter that cannot happen without medical intervention, supervision and therapy. Marriage is never a solution to such a problem. When one of the spouses is an addict, the other partner cannot take responsibility for his or her treatment.”
Furthermore, the family therapist emphasized that quitting any form of substance abuse after completing the treatment program is not the end of the story, because recovering from an addiction is a lifelong journey. “Once a recovering addict returns to drug use at any later stage in his life, even with a small amount, he will return to point zero,” he warned.
In addition to medical treatment, patients also need cognitive behavioral therapy and family therapy sessions to establish a healthier relationship with themselves, their families and the world around them.

As a result, living with a recovering partner is not easy by itself. Therefore, starting a relationship with someone still actively consuming drugs or alcohol is a disastrous mistake, Al-Yousef warned. He places a strong emphasis on transparency between couples before marriage; they must be honest about details related to their backgrounds, personalities, health history and any other aspect that could impact their relationship in the future.
“Getting into a relationship without revealing these details will lead to other multifaceted problems,” he said, noting adding mental illnesses must not be treated as “hidden, dark secrets” between couples. “Surely, every person has the right to have a family and to enjoy a healthy relationship, but that is not possible for addicts unless they break free from addiction under specialist supervision and support,” he said.
For Al-Yousef, addiction detection tests might not directly impact divorce rates and domestic violence rates since several factors contribute to these phenomena.
Nonetheless, if applied, he counts on these tests to raise public awareness about drug and alcohol abuse, and to create momentum in the national mental health sector in the long run.


Saudi National Day celebrations kick off in Diriyah

Saudi National Day celebrations kick off in Diriyah
Updated 38 min 47 sec ago

Saudi National Day celebrations kick off in Diriyah

Saudi National Day celebrations kick off in Diriyah
  • Parades, motorcycles, camels, orchestras, marching bands, and a laser show were all part of the opening day of celebrations

RIYADH: The Diriyah Gate Development Authority opened celebrations for the 91st Saudi National Day with parades and family activities in Riyadh on Thursday.

After strict “stay at home” COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, this national day celebration welcomed a large number of visitors to the Jewel of the Kingdom.

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PHOTOS: View a gallery of the stunning celebrations here 

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The Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation hosted a parade to kick off the festivities as families gathered to enjoy the swarm of motorbikes that made their way through Diriyah.

The DGDA also hosted separate sessions of float parades across three different parks in Diriyah. The floats began their first show in Al-Reem Park, followed by Al-Khalifa, and lastly King Faisal Park.

The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Interior came together to create an interactive parade for the community that highlighted the history, heritage and future of Saudi Arabia.

The first parade float was inspired by the traditional Diriyah homes and introduced the Ardah performers. The next float showcased the future of Diriyah through motion graphics and celebrated the national day with local performers. 

The third float was inspired by “One Nation” presenting five different dances from the main regions of the Kingdom. The final float in the Diriyah parade was by the future generation of the Kingdom. Children joined together in song and dance dressed in traditional Najdi clothing.

Within each destination, event volunteers ensured that visitors followed social-distancing rules while they provided masks and hand sanitizers.

The royal orchestra led a march through the center of Diriyah, playing the national anthem while families and children waved their flags nearby.

The next event was the Camel and Cavalry March, which was led by the Royal Al-Hijana and royal marching band, whose members circled Diriyah and carried Saudi flags.

The camel march featured some of the most valued camels from the King Abdulaziz Festival, dressed in heritage costumes from traditional Diriyah.

One of the closing events of the evening, hosted by the Ministry of Interior, was a laser show that was projected over Salwa Palace in the At-Turaif district of the Martyrs of the Kingdom.

Diriyah, past, present and future
On Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day, the birthplace of the Kingdom continues to make history
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