Arab Nations Face Mobility And Research Obstacles Without Rankings

The Arab world urgently needs a ranking and classification system for its universities, a pilot study covering seven countries concludes. While the number of global and country-level rankings systems continues to expand, regional classification and assessment of higher education institutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has not yet been developed.

Consequently, researchers and students are unable to make informed choices in selecting institutions to work with or at, while cooperation among universities regionally and internationally is being hampered. The rapid expansion of higher education in the region as new domestic institutions and branch campuses of overseas institutions emerge has underlined the need for a classification system, say Rajika Bhandari and Adnan El-Amine, authors of the study for the New York-based Institute of International Education (IIE).

The report, Higher Education Classification in the Middle East and North Africa: A pilot study, is supported by the Carnegie Corporation and produced in partnership with the Lebanese Association of Educational Studies in Beirut.

It has laid the groundwork for a such a system. “There is no standardised framework for understanding the region's institutions,” said Bhandari, deputy vice president of research and evaluation at the IIE and the lead researcher for the study, in a press statement.

“Having more comparable information such as that provided by our study will lead to a deeper and more transparent understanding of the wide range of institutions in the Arab world and how best to engage with them at a national, regional and global level.”

The lack of an Arab ranking system has made it more difficult for researchers and research agencies to select reliable higher education institutions in the region. It has limited the prospects of networking, exchange, mobility and cooperation with institutions of similar profiles and characteristics, the authors say.

It has prevented students from making better informed choices regarding their selection of fields of study and subsequent careers. For policy-makers, it has led to frustrated initiatives for cooperation among institutions regionally and internationally and has created confusion in relation to transferability of students, faculty mobility and the establishment of quality standards and regional frameworks for quality assurance.

And it has limited research funding from industry and university-industry partnerships. “Without a clear understanding of different types of institutions and their features, higher education institutions are often mischaracterised and the distinction between research-oriented and teaching-oriented institutions is not always evident,” the authors said. The pilot study was set up to develop a system of classifying higher education institutions in the region.

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