Posted on February 24, 2015

The Times Higher Education (THE) MENA Universities Summit drew over 180 participants including university leaders, higher education experts, educators, and business and industry organizations from over 21 countries to advance discussion on the issue of MENA university ranking.

The event, the first such in the region and in Qatar, was organized by Qatar University (QU) and THE magazine, also attracted a large number of national, regional and international media.  

The opening ceremony included speeches by QU president Prof Sheikha Abdulla Al-Misnad and THE magazine editor-at-large Phil Baty with keynote presentations by global tertiary education expert Dr Jamil Salmi on how to build a world class university, lessons from the world’s fastest rising universities, and implications for emerging economies, and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) president Dr Jean-Lou Chameau on “From Startup to Maturity” detailing his organization’s academic and research initiatives and accomplishments.

In his remarks, Mr Baty said that the conference was an opportunity for the participants to make a contribution to the dialogue on universities ranking -- an interactive environment where they can share experiences and learn from their challenges and achievements.

“We are starting to shape a brand new THE ranking here in Qatar -- a new MENA Universities Ranking”, he said, adding, “We want to create this ranking in full partnership with the university leaders in the region, so this summit is an excellent opportunity to make some history.”

Dr Al Misnad said: “The ranking journey is one that involves significant internal investment, negotiations, prioritization, and compromise. It is true that rankings play an increasingly influential role in recruiting the best students and faculty, securing donor funds, and generally achieving prestige among peers, but we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the inherent tensions between answering local needs and expectations on the one hand and looking to meet international standards of success on the other.

“Being academics, we are in a place to not only understand the rules, but to continuously assess them and raise questions on whether they are indeed the best and most appropriate measures of quality education. We must engage meticulously and meaningfully in the debate on how to make sure ranking criteria serve the ultimate goal  of continuously improving the quality and relevance of higher education in a changing world and within their local and regional contexts.

“So while universities need to understand how the various ranking systems work in order to focus on the appropriate inputs, ranking criteria need to remain true to the concept of quality education that is appropriate to a specific context. Universities are best placed to engage in this conversation, and this is what makes this summit so important.”

The morning’s panel discussion on university-industry collaboration brought together Qatar Petrochemical Company Vice-Chair and CEO Dr Mohammed Youssef Al-Mulla, Commercial Bank of Qatar CEO Mr Abdulla Saleh Al Raisi and Silatech CEO Dr Tareq Youssef.   

A masterclass on rankings conducted by Mr Baty in partnership with Mr M’hammad el Aisati, Elsevier, that included topics such as global benchmarking, trend analysis and case studies and where next for metrics in meeting MENA needs. Respondents were QU Director, Scholarships & Partnerships Office Cesar Wazen, MENA AIR President Ms Maryam Riaz, and Association of Arab Universities Secretary-General Prof Dr Sultan Abu-Orabi, and keynote address by Imperial College London president Prof Alice Gast on “Redefining the boundary conditions: the transformative power of international collaboration in higher education”.

Mr Baty revealed a pilot ranking of the top 30 universities for research impact which is a preliminary analysis and pilot ranking, designed to stimulate the debate about the best range of metrics for the region.

The afternoon program featured discussion sessions on “Social and Economic Impact of Universities: Emerging New Metrics”, “Strengths and Weaknesses of HE in MENA” and “Satellite Campuses and Transnational Education”.  Participants included Prof Saif Al-Sowaidi and Dr Abdelmagid Hammuda, QU; Dr Steven Hill, HEFCE; Mr Bahram Bekhradnia of Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI); Dr Wyatt Hume, Academy for Academic Leadership; Dr Ibrahim Al-Naemi, Community College Qatar; Dr Ted Purinton, American University in Cairo; Dr Alfred Bloom, New York University Abu Dhabi; Prof Everette E Dennis, Northwestern University in Qatar, and Dr Nisrine Abiad, Saint Joseph University UAE.  Keynote address was delivered by Al Akhawayn University president Dr Driss Ouaouicha.

In the concluding remarks, Prof Sheikha and Mr Baty thanked participants for contributing to a successful conference on such a critical topic for universities. “This conference is the first of a new annual series, so there will be a strong legacy for Qatar university as the founding partner of the MENA summit series”, Mr Baty said, adding, “We will deliver a full MENA ranking at next year’s summit in UAE, but we hope to return to Qatar very soon.”

In the closing ceremony, Prof Al-Misnad handed over to Prof Mohammed Albaili, Provost of UAE University where the second in the conference series will be held on February 2 and 3.