No strong culture of institutional data collection in Mena region: Phil Baty

The editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings highlights some of the challenges in building a ranking system for universities in the UAE.


Muaz Shabandri

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Published: Tue 25 Nov 2014, 9:32 PM

Last updated: Mon 29 Nov 2021, 10:17 AM

A new ranking league proposed for UAE universities has been on the cards for several months. International education experts have debated the challenges of comparing branch campuses with home grown universities and government-funded colleges.

In the UAE, the Centre for Higher Education Information and Statistics (CHEDS) is responsible for collecting data from all higher education institutions (HEI).

A UAE federal law announced in 2011 defining one of the roles of CHEDS directed the centre to produce and publish annual reports on each HEI, through which the performance of each education institution is compared with performance indicators for quality and excellence. Currently, students in the UAE do not have access to any such rankings.

Phil BatyIn an interview with Khaleej Times, Phil Baty (in pic, right), editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, highlighted some of the challenges in building a ranking system for the UAE.

Has there been any progress in creating a ranking system for the higher education system in the UAE?

Times Higher Education (THE) has established the world’s most trusted and authoritative ranking system, but it only ranks the world’s leading research-intensive institutions.

We could deliver a ranking of the region tomorrow if we were to use existing metrics, such as research impact and reputation, but we are very keen to develop something that really works for the region: the criteria used to judge global research universities may not be quite right for the region, where there is a greater emphasis on teaching and learning and graduate outcomes.

We want to take our time to develop a set of metrics and weightings that really deliver what the Mena community wants. We do not want to impose something on the sector from outside. That is why we are hosting a major Mena Universities Summit in Qatar on February 23 to 25, 2015.

What are the difficulties faced in benchmarking branch campuses and parent universities in the same ranking system?

There is a general problem ranking institutions in the Mena region as there is no strong culture of institutional data collection — and certainly no tradition of sharing data externally. In order to rank universities against THE’s trusted and comprehensive criteria, we need to work in partnership with universities to share basic institutional data which allows us to combine it with additional, independent data to create powerful performance indicators. Getting reliable, credible information is the first challenge. Dealing with branch campuses is another major challenge, as we need to look closely at their legal constitutions — are they truly a part of the overseas home institution, or separate entity?

What is being done to address data-sharing concerns from education providers? Are universities keen to be a part of different ranking systems?

Our recent meetings and workshops in Abu Dhabi were very encouraging indeed – there are clearly very strong levels of interest in THE’s rankings and a real willingness to engage with this process. It is going to be tough but I am very optimistic that the time is right for this exciting new rankings activity in the region.

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