Times Higher Education (THE) has just announced the third edition of its Arab University Rankings. There has been a churning of universities with many falling and many rising. Once again, this volatility seems largely the result of methodology changes and only in part any genuine decline or progress.
The rankings are led by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, which makes sense from the point of view of high impact research, although it does no undergraduate teaching. After that we have Khalifa University, UAE, Qatar University, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Saudi Arabia, and the University of Sharjah, UAE.
THE has introduced a raft of changes in its World University Rankings, including adding patents as a metric, tweaking the internationalisation pillar to help larger countries, and including three new measures of citations.
They have added more changes to the Arab University Rankings. The weighting given to the teaching and research surveys has been trimmed. Field Normalised Citation Impact has been removed altogether leaving the three new metrics for research impact: Research Strength, Research Excellence, and Research Influence. Within the International Outlook pillar there is now a 2% weighting for inter-Arab collaboration. The Society pillar, unlike the world rankings, does not include patents and it gives a 4%. weight to participation and performance in THE's Impact Ranking.
It is always advisable to look at the specific metric ranks for any ranking, especially THE. For this year's ranking we have: Research Quality; KAUST, International Outlook; Gulf Medical University, UAE, Research Environment; KAUST, Teaching; Beirut Arab University, Society; KAUST.
There are some interesting things about this year's rankings. To start, there is a noticeable improvement in the ranks of universities in the United Arab Emirates. There are now six UAE universities in the top 25 compared with four last year and three in 2021.
Some Emirati universities have done particularly well, Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi has risen from fifth place to second and Abu Dhabi University from 39th to 9th.
The results were announced this year at the THE MENA summit which this year was held at the campus of New York University Abu Dhabi.
That meeting also saw a number of awards going to UAE institutions, including Abu Dhabi University for International Strategy of the year. Gulf Medical University in Ajman for outstanding support for students, New York University Abu Dhabi for Research Project STEM, American University in Dubai for Teaching and Learning Strategy.
A few years ago I noticed that THE was holding conferences where they would announce results that appeared to favour the host countries. Thus in February 2015 THE held a MENA summit in Qatar with a "snapshot" single metric ranking that put Texas A & M Qatar in first place and UAE University 11th. The next MENA meeting was in January 2016 in Al Ain, UAE where in a ranking that used the WUR metrics, Texas A and M Qatar disappeared and UAEU rose to fifth place.
Another example. In February 2016 at a conference held at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, THE introduced a new methodology for its Asian rankings that dethroned the University of Tokyo as the top Asian university and placed it below universities in Kong Kong, Singapore, and Mainland China.
In contrast, the number of Egyptian universities in the top 25 has fallen from six to two , Mansoura University and the American University in Cairo. Last year's front runner King Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia, has fallen to 15th place.
So the holding of a summit in Abu Dhabi and a new methodology coincided with a significant improvement for UAE in general and a very significant improvement for two Abu Dhabi universities. Plus NYU Abu Dhabi, currently unranked, received an award. Perhaps this is just a coincidence or perhaps such a turnover in a single year reflects real changes, which the new methodology accurately detects. But cynics may wonder a little.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about conflict of interest in the ranking business. It is likely that questions will be asked about a new methodology so conveniently helping institutions in the summit host country.