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The best universities in the Middle East for 2021: Saudi’s King Abdulaziz University still ranks highest

Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings just revealed their latest data for the year 2021, where they rank over 1500 universities from around the world on factors such as teaching, research, citations, industry income and international outlook, among others.

Among the Middle East entrants, Saudi's King Abdulaziz University placed the highest for the sixth consecutive year, since 2016. Worldwide, it appeared in the 201-250 band In second place in the Middle East was Alfaisal University, another Saudi institute, which placed in the 251-300 band worldwide Many other universities from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries made the list, with an additional 18 institutions qualifying since last year

Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings just revealed their latest data for the year 2021, where they rank over 1500 universities from around the world on factors such as teaching, research, citations, industry income and international outlook, among others. 

Among the Middle East entrants, Saudi’s King Abdulaziz University placed the highest for the sixth consecutive year, since 2016. Worldwide, it appeared in the 201-250 band.

In second place in the Middle East was Alfaisal University, another Saudi institute, which placed in the 251-300 band worldwide. 

Coming hot on the heels of these two institutions is the often venerated American University of Beirut (AUB), one of the oldest in the region. This year, the Lebanese higher education institute appeared in the top 301-350 band, up from 351-400 in 2020, despite economic collapse in the country and a recent explosion that destroyed half of the capital.

Joining AUB in the 301-350 band is the United Arab Emirates University, the first and the largest academic institution in the country. Qatar University also made the 301-350 cut. 

In 351-400, we have the UAE’s Khalifa University.

Next in the 401-500 band is the Jordan University of Technology, which is joined by Egypt’s Aswan University and Mansoura University in the same ranking. 

Table by The National.

Many other universities from these and other Arab countries made the list, though at lower rankings. Regardless, the number of institutions placing in top rankings and competing with internationally renowned universities that have existed for centuries attests to the region’s developing education sector. This is even more notable given the increasingly competitive nature of the rankings, with a record 1,527 institutions qualifying, up 9% from 2020 when 1,397 universities were ranked.

In the MENA region, an additional 18 institutions qualified since last year, with Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all seeing new entrants in the 2021 ranking, THE noted. 

Phil Baty, Chief Knowledge Officer at THE, commented: “While Saudi Arabia continues to top the THE World University Ranking for MENA, with an impressive 6th consecutive year in the 201-250 band for King Abdulaziz University, it is testament to the growing strength of higher education across the Middle East to see Lebanon and Iran also move into the top 350. With a likely decrease in the international flow of students and staff around the world, and possible funding challenges among the west’s established higher education sectors as a result of Covid-19, we could see universities across MENA and Asia capitalise if homegrown talent stays put rather than making its traditional migration to elite western institutions, particularly in the US and the UK.”

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Overall global rankings

Table by The National.

The wider rankings see the UK’s University of Oxford claim top spot for the 5th consecutive year, while the US dominates the top 10. Mainland China’s Tsinghua University this year became the first ever Asian university to break into the top 20 (joint 20th) rank since the current methodology launched in 2011, THE said.

This year’s ranking analysed over 86 million citations across more than 13.6 million research publications and included survey responses from 22,000 scholars globally. 

The 17th edition of the Rankings sees a record 18 countries and regions represented in the top 100, and 93 represented overall, demonstrating that geopolitical competition in the global knowledge economy is intensifying.

Notwithstanding the success story of the top 10, the UK’s and US’s roles as higher education superpowers is under challenge, as institutions from Asia continue to impress. Of the UK’s top 20 ranked institutions last year, only five were able to improve their position in the table, while 50% of the US’s 20 best performing universities from the 2020 ranking fail to maintain their position. Over the past five years, the US has lost 4 positions in the overall top 200 (63 in 2016, 59 in 2021) as competition rises for the top places.

Since 2016, mainland China has gained 5 additional places in the top 200 (from 2 in 2016 to 7 in 2021). It has also doubled its representation in the top 100 since last year, gaining 3 additional places (6 in total) as mainland China continues to challenge the world’s very best.

You can view the full rankings here