Could Arab Countries Rival the West in Education?

Could Arab Countries Rival the West in Education?
  • Opening Intro -

    According to "U.S. News & World Report", the Arab region might be on the rise in terms of education quality.


On their Best Arab Region Universities Rankings, they gave their top two schools, King Saud University and King Abdulaziz University, scores of 100 and 99.5, respectively. Both schools are in Saudi Arabia and potential demonstrators of the Arab region gradually becoming an educational power in the world.


There are a variety of reports with different methodologies for ranking universities, but the consensus seems to be that Arab countries are showing improvements in education but the region as a whole isn’t perfect. Therefore, Arab countries, even the high ranking ones, still haven’t made the same impact on global university rankings as others. Out of 21 Arab countries, the 2016 Global Youth Development Index and Report ranked 14 as "very high", one was "high", three "medium", and three "low."


The YDI study tracked students for five years, ranging from ages 15 to 29, across 183 countries. Factors it took into consideration were literacy rates, secondary school enrollment rates, and Internet usage experience. The Arab countries that were considered are part of the Middle East and North Africa (or MENA) region.


While the report does demonstrate some encouraging statistics for the Arab region, some feel it might not be entirely representative, nor is the methodology totally logical. Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a professor at Egypt’s National Research Centre believes factoring secondary education enrollment rates doesn’t paint an accurate picture in terms of actual overall educational quality.

"Measuring youth educational development using access to basic and secondary education is misleading, as youth development goes beyond just having growth in students’ numbers," Abdelhamid said.


There are marked differences between which countries scored highly and which scored low. The ones that ranked "very high" included more prosperous Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. Lower ranking countries were ones such as Mauritania and Djibouti, countries with much higher rates of poverty. Another factor to lower rankings could be current conflicts. Sudan and Iraq, for instance, were ranked 18th and 19th respectively. Syria, currently in the midst of a civil war, ranked 15th on the Arab countries list, with a score marked as "high." However, between 2013 and 2016, it fell 43 places on the overall YDI.

Best Schools

As previously mentioned, Saudi Arabia is at the top for university education in the Arab world, according to "U.S. News and World Report". Ranked right after King Saud University and King Abdulaziz University is King Abdullah University of Science & Technology, with a score of 91.2. King Saud University ranks number one across many fields, including agricultural and biological sciences, computer science, and dentistry. Students at King Abdulaziz seem to show a great inclination towards science and technology as well, ranking number one in engineering, mathematics, and physics and astronomy. Meanwhile, King Abdullah University of Science & Technology is bringing more scientific minds into the Arab world, with number one rankings in chemistry, chemical engineering and biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology.

Impressive strides have been made by some Arab countries, but for many, the hope is that all countries can be up to the standards set by Saudi Arabia or Qatar. For Soohyun Jeon, research director of the Sheikh Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the UAE, improvements needed in the less educated Arab countries include infrastructure of school buildings, high-quality teachers, and widespread access to technology. If education improves across the Arab world; it will be improved across the whole world.

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Categories: Academics