Academics welcome new national university ranking system

International education experts have generally welcomed the new Saudi national ranking system – the Saudi Global Ranking (SGR) – as a means to fine-tune traditional local universities’ progress towards socio-economic development, although some have argued a need for more objective and quantifiable parameters to be included.

The ranking system was launched by the Education and Training Evaluation Commission (ETEC) on 20 March. The SGR is part of the Human Capability Development Programme of the country’s Vision 2030.

Saudi Arabia is the sixth country out of 22 Arab states, after Algeria, Egypt, LibyaIraq and Jordan, to produce a university ranking system.

The national universities ranking systems are in line with recommendations from a 2022 study entitled “The performance of higher education institutions in the Arab world from a strategic perspective: Challenges and possible solutions”, which indicated the value of local evaluations of performance rather than relying only upon global indicators and mechanisms.

Identifying strengths and weaknesses

Speaking to Al Ekhbariya, a government-operated Arabic satellite TV channel based in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Professor Abeer Al-Harbi, general manager of ranking programmes at ETEC, said the SGR is a mechanism for measuring the performance of higher education institutions in Saudi Arabia to highlight their strengths and potential areas for improvement.

The indicators include: quality of teaching and learning (four sub-indicators which constitute 45% of institutional scores); research and knowledge transfer (two sub-indicators which constitute 30%); community partnerships and sustainability (two sub-indicators which constitute 15%); and internationalisation (two sub-indicators which constitute 10%).

The Saudi ranking system performance sub-indicators include educational outcomes, educational environment, accreditation, employability, research outputs, knowledge transfer, community contribution activity, sustainability, international activity and student/faculty exchange.

There are also specific sub-indicators based on Saudi’s needs, including socio-economic and developmental impact of universities through producing market-ready graduates and volunteering, along with entrepreneurial activity and patent licensing agreements with local organisations.

Local development needs

Professor Abdulkader Alfantookh, former deputy minister of higher education in Saudi Arabia, told University World News the SGR would “offer knowledge and information of importance to decision-makers and higher education institutional leaders to help them in the formulation of evidence-based higher education policies to enhance universities’ role in local socio-economic development”.

He said the SGR would encourage Saudi universities to work on updating their systems and strategic plans along with supporting areas and indicators that are directly related to the national ranking performance indicators.

“SGR will, of course, have a positive impact on quality and excellence in Saudi universities along with improving their image among the academic community and raising competitiveness among higher education institutions,” Alfantookh said.

Samir Khalaf Abd-El-Aal, research professor at the Biotechnology Research Institute of the National Research Centre in Cairo, told University World News that establishing a ranking system for local universities is a good start in the right direction to link universities and higher education institutions to local developmental needs.

“The ranking must use performance indicators that can be measured on the ground, not just adjusted by universities on paper,” Abd-El-Aal said.

“As universities must act as dynamic promoters of innovation, economic growth and sustainable development, the ranking system must use performance indicators that accelerate the transformation of traditional Saudi universities to a university 4.0 model, as well as entrepreneurial and innovative universities,” he added.

Abd-El-Aal’s views are supported by several studies which indicate that the global university ranking system and number of patents should not be the only metric for evaluating Saudi universities. Other parameters should also be considered to ensure universities fulfil their economic and social duties.

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