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QF stemming the brain drain

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A Qatar based media The Peninsula dwelt on how a local institution Qatar Foundation aka QF is stemming the brain drain meaning of earlier times. Qatar representing 0.10% of the total MENA region land area could perhaps be only doing that to the same proportion. Is it still worth it? Another hiccup would be that of the increasingly divested from and diminishing fossil fuels export-related revenues; could these be that helpful at the same rate in the future, be it near or far? In any case, let us see what it is all about.

The image above is for illustration only and is of the Qatar Foundation headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

QF stemming the brain drain

The Peninsula

Doha: In the past decades, many of the MENA region’s best Arab scientists, inventors, engineers, designers, and innovators left their home countries for better opportunities in the West.

While the reasons for the “brain drain” in this part of the world have been varied, many of these talented youth cite a lack of support and resources as their reason for leaving. However, the situation is evolving – for the better.

For more than a decade, Qatar has become a confluence for science and innovation in the MENA region. It is home to Qatar Foundation’s (QF) edutainment show Stars of Science, and it hosts Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP). 

Qatar’s Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis developed a unique smart educational prayer rug. Targeted at young and newly converted Muslims, the rug teaches the user the correct way to pray, and more.

The show falls under QSTP’s umbrella of programmes that support incubation and start-ups, enhancing capacity to further develop the Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation (QF RDI) ecosystem. The area is fast becoming recognised as the epicentre for technological, engineering, and scientific innovation.

This ecosystem supports and nurtures home-grown innovations from some of the region’s brightest young Arab minds with a view to stemming the tide of MENA innovators seeking resources, support, and mentorship elsewhere. It provides inventors with a nurturing environment where they can refine their inventions, gain guidance, confidence, and mentorship, with the aim to retain promising talent. And with numerous alumni creating innovations that are being used globally, the program also helps to showcase Arab talent to the wider world. 

While Stars of Science helps shape the region’s future through revealing the potential of innovators, QSTP promotes one of QF’s key objectives; empowering the innovator behind the idea. 

Contestants are automatically enrolled into the flagship accelerator programme, XLR8, where they can continue working on their projects with QF’s support. This unique innovation hub assists inventive entrepreneurs with successful startups, helping them bring their creations to the market within the region, but also internationally.

One such innovator is Dr. Nour Majbour, former researcher at Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, part of QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), who took her fascination with the human brain and created a laboratory kit designed to diagnose Parkinson’s disease in its early stages through antibodies. After the show, Dr. Majbour went on to further develop her Stars of Science project, named QABY, within Qatar’s supportive technological ecosystem and officially registered it as a trademark with QF.

Another alumnus from the show is veterinarian Dr. Mohammed Doumir from Algeria – his  ingenious project addresses the issue of limping in racing camels. Post Stars of Science, Qatar’s unique collaborative ecosystem appealed to Dr. Doumir, and he stayed in the country pushing for technological advancement and promoting innovation. With the support of the QSTP Product Development Fund – which incubated and funded his idea – he opened his own company named Vetosis, and is now the director for veterinary research and innovation at QSTP. He is currently adding new applications to his device for camel training and fitness promotion. 

In Stars of Science Season 11, Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis, from Qatar, took inspiration from his Islamic faith to develop Sajdah, the unique Smart Educational Prayer Rug. Targeted at young and newly converted Muslims, the rug teaches the user the correct way to pray — and more. 

After Stars of Science, he started his own company, Thakaa Technologies currently incubated at QSTP where he received funding through the QSTP Product Development Fund. He also successfully completed a pre-order crowdfunding campaign on Launchgood, a platform co-founded by another Stars of Science alumnus, Omar Hamid.

These projects serve as prime examples of incredible collaborations with Qatar’s technological ecosystem, and are a testament to successfully promoting Arab innovators. They highlight Qatar’s unique atmosphere of innovation and support, to the benefit of the Arab region – and beyond – transforming ideas into inventions that positively impact local and international communities. 

Arab University Rankings 2021: results announced

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Universities in the MENA region were assessed and ranked by THE World University Ranking under the title of Arab University Rankings 2021: results announced.  So here are those results.

The picture above is for illustration and is of THE of 12 February 2021.

Arab University Rankings 2021: results announced

Saudi Arabia dominates top of new regional table, while Egypt is most-represented nation overall

July 27, 2021

Jeddah Saudi Arabia – Source: iStock

Browse the full results of the Arab University Rankings 2021


Universities in Saudi Arabia lead a new Times Higher Education ranking focused on the Arab region.

King Abdulaziz University tops the inaugural THE Arab University Rankings, while four other institutions in the county also feature in the top 10: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) (third), Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University (fourth), King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (fifth) and King Saud University (eighth).

Overall, 22 Saudi Arabian universities are ranked in the list. On average, the country performs particularly well on metrics relating to the share of international staff, international co-authorship and institutional income.

The United Arab Emirates is the only other nation with more than one institution in the top 10; Khalifa University and United Arab Emirates University are sixth and seventh respectively, with both institutions receiving high scores for metrics relating to the research environment.

Qatar has only one representative in the table – the flagship Qatar University – but it claims second place thanks to strong scores across the board.

Meanwhile, Egypt is the most-represented nation, with 31 institutions, led by Zewail City of Science and Technology in 10th place. Five other Egyptian universities feature in the top 20. The country receives a strong average score for citation impact and teaching reputation, the latter of which is based on the first THE survey exclusively dedicated to published academics in the Arab region. Egypt is also home to the most leading large universities in the region; there are 20 ranked institutions with more than 50,000 students and all of the top 10 are in the North African country.

Lebanon is the only other country to feature in the top 10, with the American University of Beirut claiming ninth place.


Arab University Rankings 2021: top 10

Rank 2021 Position in World University Rankings 2021 Institution Country
1 201–250 King Abdulaziz University Saudi Arabia
2 301–350 Qatar University Qatar
3 NR King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Saudi Arabia
4 NR Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University Saudi Arabia
5 501–600 King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals Saudi Arabia
6 351–400 Khalifa University United Arab Emirates
7 301–350 United Arab Emirates University United Arab Emirates
8 401–500 King Saud University Saudi Arabia
9 301–350 American University of Beirut Lebanon
10 NR Zewail City of Science and Technology Egypt

NR = not ranked 


Overall, 125 institutions from 14 countries are ranked in the inaugural Arab University Rankings, with the vast majority (100) being public institutions. A further 30 institutions are listed with “reporter” status, meaning that they provided data but did not meet our eligibility criteria to receive a rank. The top-ranked private university is Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University in fourth place.

The ranking is THE’s most comprehensive assessment of higher education in the Arab region to date. Fifty-five of the ranked institutions, including Bahrain and Palestine’s two representatives each, did not feature in the latest World University Rankings due to its stricter eligibility criteria. Iraq is the third most-represented nation in the Arab ranking, with 16 ranked institutions (and a further 15 with reporter status), but only two of these were included in the global table.

The methodology behind the Arab ranking is based on the same framework as the global table, but some adjustments have been made and some new metrics have been included to reflect the features and missions of universities in the Arab region. There are regional measures on reputation and collaboration as well as metrics related to social impact.

Nasser Al-Aqeeli, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for research and innovation, said that the country’s strong performance in the ranking was partly driven by recent policies to strengthen research and innovation in universities.

The Ministry of Education has worked with a number of public and private sectors to establish 12 national research and innovation priority areas “to help universities focus their research on what is needed in Saudi Arabia”, Professor Al-Aqeeli said. It has also worked directly with institutions on their own research strategies based on their strengths and what is needed in their local cities and regions.

Meanwhile, last year the ministry initiated a new national funding system for universities. The “institutional fund program” gives a pot of research funding to each university and the university administration manages how this is distributed to its academics, instead of scholars submitting grant proposals to the ministry, to help speed up the process. As a result, Saudi Arabia was ranked first in the Arab world and 14th globally for the number of coronavirus-related research publications, Professor Al-Aqeeli said.

Habib Fardoun, director of the Observatory Center for Academic Standards and Excellence at King Abdulaziz University, said that the institution’s research projects are all done in collaboration with international, regional and national partners to acheive the strongest results, while over the last 10 years the university has worked on improving the quality of its education.

On the Arab ranking more broadly, Dr Fardoun said the methodology is “aligned with the Arab countries’ strategies”, which will enable governments to measure the outputs of their universities and to give institutions more support in shaping and fulfilling these strategies.

Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at THE, said that universities in the Arab world have achieved “very strong progress” in recent years in the World University Rankings but “the increased presence of Arabic institutions in the global ranking does not do full justice to the rich diversity of the sector, and does not fully reflect the range of activities and missions at the regional level, or the priorities of more regionally focused institutions”.

“So it is very exciting that this new, bespoke ranking for the Arab region allows us to offer a more nuanced, regional context, allowing many more institutions in the region to benchmark themselves against a range of relevant performance indicators and deploy THE’s trusted data to support their missions and their development,” he said.


Countries represented in the Arab University Rankings 2021

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com 

Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region

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ZAWYA published an article by Sara Al-Mulla on how illiteracy is still the dominant factor in the MENA region. It recommends notably no less than Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all.

Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all

The picture above is for illustration and is of the Gulf Times.

Students learn the alphabet in a classroom of 12 women of different ages all eager to learn to read and write at the literacy centre of Umm al-Hareth secondary school on April 17, 2009, in Amman, Jordan. Getty Images By Sara Al-Mulla, Arab News

In today’s world, knowledge is deemed to be the key to progress; spearheading innovations in myriad futuristic sectors, commandeering global competitiveness and empowering people to live high-quality lives. Indeed, the true wealth of any nation lies in its human capital’s ability to thrive.

The Arab region has achieved great strides in the field of education in the past five decades, with the widespread establishment of schools, high enrolment rates and government support for students. Data from the World Bank demonstrates this remarkable progress, as the Arab region has lifted literacy rates from 43 percent in 1973 to 79 percent in 2019. Despite this phenomenal achievement, illiteracy remains a shortcoming in the region. It is estimated that about 50 million adults in the Arab world are illiterate today, limiting their roles as active members of their societies. These figures are aggravated by the 6 million children who have been forced out of school due to conflicts and poverty.

The calamity of illiteracy manifests itself in a number of threats. Without the basic tenets of communication, people could find themselves drastically limited in their life choices and their ability to carry out important daily tasks. For example, illiterate people are unable to examine a medicine label, read a bank statement, skim through the news, calculate a financial investment, understand government policies, or communicate with family and friends via mobile phones or online social networks.

Illiterate parents also tend to have lower expectations with regards to their children’s educational attainment, aggravating generational illiteracy. Dr. Bernadette Dwyer, a professor of literacy studies in education at Dublin City University, made a powerful statement in this regard: “Literacy permeates all areas of life, fundamentally shaping how we learn, work, and socialize. Literacy is essential to informed decision-making, personal empowerment, and community engagement.”

Illiteracy also costs the global economy an estimated $1.19 trillion annually in lost economic productivity, according to the World Literacy Foundation. Globally, illiterate people earn 30 to 42 percent less than those who are literate, severely limiting their capacity to thrive and access important goods and services, such as food, shelter, education, and healthcare services. Furthermore, illiteracy has been linked to unemployment or low-quality jobs, lower lifelong earnings, reduced access to professional development courses, poorer health outcomes, increased crime rates, lower civic participation and community involvement, lower feelings of self-worth, increased isolation, limited retirement savings, and welfare dependency.

In order to tackle the issue of illiteracy in the region, it is imperative that policymakers understand its root causes. Perhaps the greatest barrier to literacy is the rampant poverty rate in certain communities, where children are forced to work to help their families make ends meet. At the same time, low economic productivity in many Arab nations has limited public funding for schools and reduced financial support for families in the form of tuition subsidies and scholarships. Poverty has also worsened gender discrimination in many parts of the region, resulting in limited female enrolment in schools due to early marriage and pregnancy, violence or cultural norms about the role of women.

Additionally, deteriorating safety issues and raging conflicts have, in recent years, resulted in an exodus of children from schools. Another leading cause of illiteracy is the presence of children with learning disabilities or difficulties that go undetected or untreated. Special education is expensive to finance for families on their own, as they would need to pay for diagnostic tests, treatments, dedicated shadow teachers, and special resources.

Research shows that children living in rural areas are more likely to drop out of school compared to children in urban areas, as nearby schools are lacking. Other institutional aspects that undermine children’s ability to learn include unsatisfactory learning environments, overcrowded classrooms, shortages of trained teachers, unengaging school curricula, and insufficient learning resources.

As such, radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all. It is imperative that household data be captured to elucidate illiteracy rates according to geographical location, age group and gender. Additionally, such research should evaluate the root causes behind illiteracy so that appropriate policies and programs can be formulated to overcome these specific barriers.

Solutions could be designed based on the size of the cohorts, such as the establishment of modern schools to cater for large groups or individualized workshops that are tailored to the needs of small groups of learners. Enrolment can be encouraged by taking on local volunteers who can sign people up or via applications on online portals. Additionally, relevant and engaging educational curricula need to be designed to accommodate local workplace needs, in addition to the hiring of skilled teachers. For participants who are unable to attend school due to work or family responsibilities, one-on-one tutoring sessions could be facilitated on a weekly basis to meet their learning needs.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is the cultural attitude toward education. Nationwide grassroots and media campaigns can play an influential role in highlighting the priceless value of literacy and its beneficial effects on people’s lives, especially among cultures that have contradicting viewpoints on the subject. Furthermore, governments could partner with nonprofit and private sector organizations that dedicate their funds and efforts toward literacy programs.

Nations are today competing against one another in terms of their ability to transform knowledge into economic productivity and high-quality living for their citizens. Literacy is the key for Arab nations if they are to create a new renaissance period.

  • Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at http://www.amorelicious.com.

Largest student numbers enrolled in higher education in MENA

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Daily News Egypt reports that Egypt has one of the largest student numbers enrolled in higher education in MENA as per a UfM report.

The study aims to be effective tool for education stakeholders, set out to investigate the internationalisation of higher education.

Egypt has one of largest student numbers enrolled in higher education in MENA: UfM

By Nehal Samir

Egypt has one of the largest numbers of students enrolled in higher education in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with a total of around 2.4 million students, according to a new Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) report. 

The UFM launched a regional dialogue process on the internationalisation of higher education in the Mediterranean region. It noted that internationalisation is not understood as a goal by itself, but a process aimed at enhancing the quality and standards of education and research. 

This dialogue intends to facilitate continuous peer learning among the UfM countries on policies and practices addressing common challenges and priorities, and to foster joint projects and initiatives.

In intent to address regional needs and pave the way for a change of scale in the support mechanisms, the UfM launched a study, conducted by the Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED).

The study aims at being an effective tool for policymakers and other stakeholders, and set out to investigate the internationalisation of higher education in 10 countries, namely: Algeria; Egypt; Palestine; Israel; Jordan; Lebanon; Libya; Mauritania; Morocco; and Tunisia.

The study focused especially on resources and opportunities available at the national and regional levels.

The report found that in most cases, internationalisation is identified simply as mobility, while a more comprehensive internationalisation strategy would be highly beneficial for institutions and staff, and may increase attractiveness and participation.

The report also showed that in a year’s average before the pandemic, over 220,000 students moved around the world came from MENA countries, which in turn hosted over 134,000 international students.

“Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia have a net outflow of student mobility, while Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan have a net inflow, particularly from the rest of Asia and some African countries,” according to the UFM.

The report also revealed that South and East Mediterranean Countries have been increasingly sending and receiving students to and from the MENA region, alongside Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, India, and China. 

Malaysia is one of the most active actors in the Mediterranean area, constantly boosting its cooperation with Arab countries and higher education institutions.

The report showed that academic mobility is overwhelmingly from South to North in the region. The low attractiveness of local higher education systems, including quality and diversity of research, prevents Southern Mediterranean countries from achieving reciprocal mobility.

“The EU’s Erasmus+ programme is generating the largest impact on the internationalisation strategies of higher education institutions,” the report noted, “Meanwhile, in the South-Eastern Mediterranean region, there is a focus on national activities and bilateral cooperation, rather than on a regional approach.” 

It added that universities in the MENA region perceive themselves as more teaching-oriented than research-oriented, as the research sector suffers from low budget allocation. All countries in the study spend less than 1% of GDP on Research and Developments (R&D). 

The report revealed that obstacles to effective internationalisation include: high fragmentation in the procedures and systems of credit recognition and assessment of qualifications; and difficulties obtaining visas for international mobility. The latter point affects particularly MENA countries to access Europe.

A series of recommendations emerge from the study, both at national and regional level. They were formulated taking in consideration the most relevant existing best practices and initiatives that can be replicated and up-scaled in the region. 

They point out proposals regarding information-sharing mechanisms, the improvement of present regional initiatives and programmes, and synergies and complementarities between existing mobility schemes and programmes. This is in addition to appropriate capacity-development mechanisms for Higher Education Institutions.

The report was presented during an online event recently, which introduced the results of the study and launched the preparation of a renewed policy agenda for the region. 

Nasser Kamel, Secretary-General of the UfM, stated in the report that, only by investing in the region’s future and youth, will the region be able, as internationalisation practitioners, to guarantee a framework of sustainability and prosperity in the Mediterranean.

Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried

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This article republished from The Conversation is about Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids that risk being buried by shifting sand dunes and take with them all related history.

Rampant desertification expansion towards the north does not meet any counter-movement. But, conversely, in the south, one ambitious African-led reforestation project is leading the way.
To combat sand movement and desertification by increasing the vegetation cover along the southern edge of the Saharan desert, a Green Wall is proposed. It is being implemented throughout the continent from ocean to ocean.
In the southern edge of the MENA region, we sadly do not share the same concern and do not consecrate to date more than little attention paid to it. Is it the force of habit or what else?

Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried by shifting sand dunes

Ahmed Mutasim Abdalla Mahmoud, University of Nottingham

The word “pyramid” is synonymous with Egypt, but it is actually neighbouring Sudan that is home to the world’s largest collection of these spectacular ancient structures.

Beginning around 2500BC, Sudan’s ancient Nubian civilisation left behind more than 200 pyramids that rise out of the desert across three archaeological sites: El Kurru, Jebel Barkal and Meroe, in addition to temples, tombs and royal burial chambers.

Nubian archaeological sites in modern-day Sudan and Egypt. Google Maps

Despite being smaller than the famous Egyptian pyramids of Giza, Nubian pyramids are just as magnificent and culturally valuable. They even offer a crowd-free experience for intrepid tourists.

Built of sandstone and granite, the steeply-sloping pyramids contain chapels and burial chambers decorated with illustrations and inscriptions carved in hieroglyphs and Meroitic script celebrating the rulers’ lives in Meroe – a wealthy Nile city and the seat of power of Kush, an ancient kingdom and rival to Egypt.

Located about 220km north of the capital Khartoum, the cultural gem of Meroe is now one of Sudan’s most significant Unesco world heritage sites. However a lack of preservation, severe weather conditions and negligent visitors have all taken their toll on its monuments. Back in the 1880s, for instance, the Italian explorer Giuseppe Ferlini blew up several pyramids in his search for Kushite treasure, leaving many of the tombs missing their pointy tops. Many more of Sudan’s other pyramids were subsequently plundered and destroyed by looters.

Shifting sands

These days sandstorms and shifting sand dunes pose the biggest threat to Sudan’s ancient heritage sites. This phenomenon is nothing new, and was even chronicled thousands of years ago. An inscription found in a temple from the 5th century BC describes a Kushite king giving an order to clear out sand from the pathway:

His Majesty brought a multitude of hands, to wit, men and women as well as royal children and chiefs to carry away the sand; and his Majesty was carrying away sand with his hand(s) himself, at the forefront of the multitude for many days.

But today the threat has been exacerbated by climate change, which has made the land more arid and sandstorms more frequent. Moving sands can engulf entire houses in rural Sudan, and cover fields, irrigation canals and riverbanks.

Sand creeps over a pyramid at the northern royal cemetery of Meroe. Ahmed Mahmoud, Author provided

While some archaeologists believe sand movement helps to preserve ancient artefacts from thieves, it is known to be detrimental to excavated sites, reburying them beneath the desert. Sand blown by the wind also erodes delicate stonework and sculptures.

Fighting back against desertification

The best way to combat sand movement and desertification is to increase the vegetation cover, and one ambitious African-led reforestation project is leading the way.

Bringing together more than 20 nations, the Great Green Wall is a multi-billion dollar movement to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert by restoring 100 million hectares of land across the continent from Senegal in west Africa to Djibouti in the east. The intention is to cultivate the largest living barrier of trees and plants on the planet, with Sudan having the longest stretch of the “wall”.

The great green wall will run through the Sahel region to the south of the Sahara. sevgart / wiki, CC BY-SA

Only 4% of the target area has been covered so far, with big variations from country to country. When it is more complete, this experimental project will hopefully limit the frequency of dust storms and slow the movement of sand onto fertile lands and Unesco sites in northern Sudan. It will also contribute to tackling the extreme heatwaves in semi-arid areas such as the capital Khartoum, where the temperature goes well above 40°C during summer.

However, monitoring the impact of the project, which spans 5,000 miles across Africa, requires “big picture” data. This comes from the latest satellites and remote sensing technologies.

Sand-tracking satellites

Satellite imagery can provide valuable information about sand movement. For instance satellites are used to monitor the dust storms that transport sand from the Sahara across the Atlantic Ocean to supply the Amazon rainforest with essential fertilising nutrients.

Dust storm over Sudan, August 2017. NASA MODIS

But what about on a smaller scale? How do you predict if and when sand will submerge a field, a watering hole – or a pyramid?

In my own research I have previously used multiple overlapping images taken from aeroplanes to generate digital elevation models for sand dunes in northern Sudan. That led to my current PhD research which focuses on monitoring the movement of sand dunes using satellite optical and radar images, airborne laser imagery and other techniques. My research also investigates the influence of factors such as wind speed and direction, presence of vegetation and topography.

Colleagues and I ultimately want to develop our understanding of how sand dunes grow in size and how they migrate across the desert. This will enable us to monitor the effectiveness of interventions such as vegetation barriers, helping to combat desertification and climate change and to ensure people in Sudan are able to grow enough food. And we may even be able to predict when and where those pyramids will be buried – and what we can do to prevent it.

Ahmed Mutasim Abdalla Mahmoud, PhD Researcher, Sand Movement in Sudan, University of Nottingham

Read the original article.