Special Dispatch - Saudi Arabia/Reform Project
November 24, 2004
Arab Progressive: 'Tell Me One Arab University that can Stand Side by Side
with Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard...'
The Saudi daily Al-Jazirah recently published an article by Eissa Al-Halyan
criticizing Arabs who complained that no Arab universities were included in
a recent ranking of the world's top 500 universities. The author argued that
no Arab universities deserved to be on the list, and criticized Arab
schools' teaching methods, dedication to scholarship, and academic
priorities. The following are excerpts from the article:(1)
"It came as no surprise for me to learn that the latest annual ranking of
the world's top 500 universities contained not a single Arab university.
Israel, on the other hand, got seven listings out of the total of 500.
"The real surprise, however, has been the ongoing din and palaver from Arab
writers in the media as well as academics and intellectuals who wanted to
know why our universities were not on the list.
"To them, I say tell me the name of one Arab university that qualifies to be
on the list. Tell me one Arab university that can stand side by side with
Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford, the Sorbonne, or a number of other
justly famous world-renowned universities.
"Universities are rated by various indicators related to both academic and
research performance. This includes university alumni and staff who win
international prizes and awards, internationally significant research,
published articles, and academic performance...
"Although there are hundreds of educational institutions in our region, they
still follow old methods and techniques which were first used several
hundred years ago. We continue to use them even though the world beyond our
borders is living in - and reacting to - the era of discovery and the age of
"Under the pressure of sheer numbers of students and other considerations,
including the financial one, our universities have become little more than
large buildings full of students. The only thing about them that would
indicate they are universities is the banner bearing the magic word
'university' which is displayed everywhere.
"While universities in other parts of the world compete with each other to
produce distinguished academic research, ours busy themselves with
elementary academic matters, spending their time discussing admissions,
ceremonies, and conferences, while ignoring and distancing themselves from
the genuine concerns and problems of their societies.
"It is no wonder that seven Israeli universities appear on the list or that
Israel rates 12 out of the 35 countries with the world's top 500
"Incidentally, the list was not produced by any European or American agency;
it has nothing to do with either the CIA or Mossad. It came from the
Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China."
(1) Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), November 3, 2004.
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent,
non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle
East. Copies of articles
and documents cited, as well as background information, are available on
MEMRI holds copyrights on all translations. Materials may only be used with
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)
P.O. Box 27837, Washington, DC 20038-7837
Phone: (202) 955-9070
Fax: (202) 955-9077