WENR, November 2015: Middle East


Arab Universities Move up in Global Rankings

The Times Higher Education released a list this week of what it believes to be the best 801 universities in the world. While they may not occupy high up positions, the United Arab Emirates University and the American University of Sharjah were placed in the 501-600 and 601-800 bands respectively.

The rankings are the result of 13 metrics, which are weighted differently and are designed to evaluate a university’s teaching, international activity, research, and interactions with industry. This year Times Higher Education has stopped using Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database to assess university research. It’s still using the number of papers published per researcher and the number of times a paper is referenced by other scholars [1] as the way to gauge research prowess.

Arab universities have been previously mentioned by global rankings conducted by other agencies, such as QS Top Universities and Shanghai Ranking. The methodology varies from agency to agency, with QS and Shanghai using fewer metrics and weighting them differently, which means the results also differ.

Sultan Abu-Orabi, the secretary general of the Association of Arab Universities, says the results show how far higher education in parts of the Arab world has come, but he adds that they also highlight how much is yet to be achieved. But he cautioned that universities in the Arab world shouldn’t get caught up in rankings. “We shouldn’t work and aim for the ranking itself. The regional rankings are more helpful, says Abu-Orabi, given the continued disparity between Western and Arab university performance.

– Al-Fanar Media
October 1, 2015


Lost in Translation

At Cairo University students are disappointed with courses conducted in English that promise—for a premium—to give them a leg up in the global economy. Instead, they say the courses are just a cash cow neglected by faculty.

Students pay $900 to $1,500 annually to take courses in English, depending on the degree program, versus nominal fees that do not exceed $40 for students taking traditional Arabic-language courses. But students in most English-language courses complain that their textbooks and the quality of their professors and coursework are no better, if not worse, than those of the Arabic-language programs.

The students are particularly upset by what they say is the low quality of the English textbooks they get. University administrators often justify the high cost of the English-language studies by saying that English textbooks cost hundreds of dollars a year for a full course load. Students reject those claims, however.

Often, students and faculty said, professors assign reading materials that are cheaply obtained via the Internet. Some professors admit that their colleagues even sometimes use Wikipedia and other questionable sources in course materials.

Professors not qualified to teach in English are another problem, students claim. Many faculty members can’t converse in English or deliver lectures fluently in the language, they said. But the proficiency of the students in English is also an issue. Commerce faculty staff can speak English, but too many students lack sufficient English for students to hold wide-ranging discussions in the language.

Cairo University President Gaber Gad Nassar declined a request to discuss the students’ complaints.

Al-Fanar Media [2]
October 12, 2015

Higher Education Regulatory Funding Authority

Egypt is to establish a Higher Education Regulatory Funding Authority, or HERFA, in collaboration with the United Kingdom. The aim is to create an improved and more autonomous higher education system.

The new initiative was announced at the UK-Egypt Higher Education and Science Forum held in Cairo on 14 October, according to a report [3] from Britain’s Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

The new authority will focus on designing new funding models and regulatory regimes as well as creating conditions for a more autonomous higher education system.

“As part of its remit HERFA will have leadership development for universities to support and accelerate the pace of change needed as the Egyptian higher education sector navigates its way through the reform agenda,” the Leadership Foundation said.

University World News [4]
October 23, 2015


Higher education rising from the ashes of war

Recent weeks have seen some university students in Libya sit examinations. It is a sign that things may be improving after the worst 18 months in the history of higher education. The civil war that has been wracking the country has seen universities bombed. Some institutions have had to halt education, and operations have been impeded at others.

The University of Benghazi, which has a student population of 83,000, was forced to halt all teaching. It is now seeking new premises and is temporarily operating in secondary schools in territory controlled by Libya’s internationally recognized government, which is still fighting for control of Benghazi against forces aligned to Islamic State, or IS – also known as ISIS.

The faculty of information technology will start 2014 final examinations this month, and the science and engineering faculties staged examinations in late September. New 2015-16 courses for a number of faculties will begin in November, said the lecturer. Some students fled to the University of Tripoli, which has remained open – and credits gained there would be recognized by the University of Benghazi, he added.

The civil war came at a terrible time for higher education, as before its outbreak two years after the fall of dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, foreign aid and support had been flowing into Libya. Communications have been disrupted, as Libya’s fibre optic cabling has been damaged, making distance learning schemes problematic.

There are some positive signs. The British Council has been piloting an English training course in Libya – and it is still operational. The LearnEnglish Connect Courses run from beginner to upper intermediate. Libya-based graduates may also have the opportunity to study at the Academy of Graduate Studies in Tripoli, which has announced that it is open to students for the current academic year.

University World News [5]
October 9, 2015