DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is making rapid strides in raising its higher education standards, with Riyadhs Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University (PNU), one of the UK’s most renowned institutions, recently jumping several places in the world rankings.
The 59-point improvement from Universitas Indonesia (UI)’s previous GreenMetric World University Rankings makes PNU the second best in the Kingdom, fourth in the Middle East and 79th globally for its commitment to environmental sustainability .
The annual ranking evaluates 912 universities in 94 countries for their sustainability and eco-friendly practices, based on six key indicators: infrastructure, energy, waste, water, transport and level of education.
According to the Saudi Education and Training Evaluation Commission, using 2019 data from Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), students at PNU and other academic institutions in the Kingdom are scoring better progressive grades.
It is quite clear that there is a real determination on the part of the Saudi authorities to engage in top-level academic research because it significantly increases a university’s appreciation, said Judith Finnemore, an education advisor in the UAE. United Arab Emirates, for Arab News.
Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University has always been at the forefront of higher education, so I am really pleased to see this famous. Because there is a great deal of control by the appraisal body, there is every reason to believe that the figures are accurate.
PNU is the largest university for women in the world, with 39,000 students and more than 2,000 faculty members. Named after the sister of Kingdoms founder King Abdul Aziz, it was established in 1970 as the first Women’s Education College in Saudi Arabia.
Improving the quality of higher education has become a top priority for Saudi authorities to counter the brain drain effect of losing the most talented Kingdom students to foreign higher education institutions.
The caliber of the university study was highly questionable and the academic rigor not exactly in the league of foreign universities, Finnemore said. Universities like King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) led the way and the bar was raised considerably.
Raising standards means that the best school dropouts will choose local universities, confident they will receive a first-level degree. As a result, academics of higher caliber will find teaching at Saudi universities more fulfilling in a process that will enrich Kingdoms’ knowledge economy.
Graduates who qualify in Saudi Arabia are more likely to retire from high-level jobs, and that improves the economy, Finnemore said. Since the country has such a high percentage of its population under the age of 30, this is especially important.
Improvements in local higher education can especially benefit women. The Saudi Arabian Vision 2030 strategy envisions a huge increase in the female workforce, by as much as 30 percent over the next decade.
Recent figures show that the Kingdom is well on its way to achieving that goal, with women accounting for at least 23.5 percent of the private sector workforce.
There are already some very talented Saudi business and academic women, Finnemore said. I hope they are able to form most of the faculties in their universities and set the model for those who drop out of school.
Her view is supported by Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in Ras Al-Khaimah, UAE, who believes that the planned improvements will benefit women and control the phenomenon of brain drain.
These moves speak to the continuous improvement of women’s performance in higher education and the need to continue to support not only their higher education but also their integration into the labor market, she told Arab News.
The sector has improved tremendously and there are many high quality universities today that did not exist in the past. The Kingdom has invested in bringing in top talent from around the world to work in its higher education sector and we are now seeing the fruits of that.
While in the past Saudis had to study abroad to get a high quality education, they now have some excellent opportunities within the Kingdom.
For Stephen King, a media lecturer at Middlesex University Dubai, the rapid rise of the PNU in the world rankings represents a sea shift in culture around higher education.
The traditional global university rankings (GURs), which continue to guide the education strategy, have a number of known weaknesses, one being the importance attached to research presented to English-language journals, King told Arab News.
Profit-driven academic institutions have been criticized within the academic literature for placing too much value to be placed within these GUR tables, as this aids in the marketing of their programs.
Strangely pursuing research then becomes an advantage over other valuable contributions that academia can provide, such as helping to build a community that can address the challenges of sustainable development.
In contrast, the UI GreenMetric Ranking aims to motivate universities to think about sustainability in their research, teaching, and how they manage their campuses.
As a member of the Middlesex Dubais University Sustainable Development Institute, an SDG Learning Ambassador, a Volunteer Climate Reality Leader, and a member of the AIESEC UAE Board of Advisors, King believes this metric better reflects institutions’ commitment to issues. that matter.
It provides recognition for universities that move beyond a purely research-for-profit motivation and that walk the conversation, he said.
The impact of rising PNUs on rankings provides evidence that students, faculty and management are contributing to current social and environmental concerns or are being equipped to address future challenges, and that this is a deliberate and honest policy decision rather than an effort to improve the image of the campus through short-term philanthropic acts.
Looking ahead, Finnemore believes that the culture change around education in Saudi Arabia must begin before students reach university age. The tendency to teach orally in many schools severely limits the capacity of universities to become beacons of innovation that rivals like MIT, she says.
The country is in the throes of a lot of economic innovation, so no action should be taken by schools, she said.
For her part, Ridge expects the Kingdoms higher education sector to go from strength to strength. However, she believes that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region faces some common challenges in developing humanities, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
To overcome this, continued investment will be essential, as will the continued support of the arts and the induction of a high quality faculty in all disciplines, she added.
Saudi Arabia has worked hard to close the gap between the results of its universities in various fields and the changing demands of the labor market. As part of its Vision 2030, the Kingdom helps its students navigate their chosen career paths.
By 2030, Saudi Arabia aims to have at least five of its universities among the top 200 universities in the international rankings. To this end, it is preparing a modern curriculum focused on strict standards in literacy, numeracy, skills and character development, while tracking student progress and working closely with the private sector to ensure that higher education outcomes are in accordance with the requirements of employers.
The Kingdom is also investing in strategic partnerships with internship providers, new skills councils and major private concerns, while building a centralized student database that tracks their performance from early childhood to K-12 and beyond. .
The benefits are expected to be felt in everything from educational planning and monitoring to assessment and results.
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