Fossil fuel research ties undermine universities’ climate change response

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Accepting industry money risks distorting research and allowing polluting firms to greenwash their reputations, says Zak Coleman. However before A fossil fuel divestment ‘how-to’, it is advisable not to overlook or ignore what has been said before now.

Fossil fuel research ties undermine universities’ climate change response

Zak Coleman

I became the University of Cambridge’s students’ union undergraduate president in the wake of the university’s historic decision to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. I felt hopeful. The university was waking up to the urgent need to combat the climate crisis. It finally understood the damaging consequences of lending its reputational legitimacy to the industry driving this emergency. 

Or so I thought. 

Working at the students’ union, I became increasingly aware that the university’s involvement with fossil fuel companies extended far beyond its investments. The BP Institute and the professorship of complex physical systems sponsored by offshore drilling company Schlumberger are just two of the countless industry links that Cambridge retains. Everywhere I looked, I saw the university inviting the very same companies it had just condemned as unconscionable investments to be senior partners in its core research activities.

This felt like an enormous betrayal. Universities are supposed to be committed to supporting young people and our futures. But here was my university collaborating extensively with the companies destroying that future. 

But it’s not just the hypocrisy that concerns me. Universities’ research partnerships with the fossil fuel industry also undermine their ability to effectively address the climate emergency. 

Let’s be clear. Industry executives have known about the devastating climate impacts of their business for more than 50 years. Instead of acting on the science, however, they spent millions of pounds spreading climate disinformation and expanded their fossil fuel operations. They continue to engage in extensive anti-climate political lobbying and resolutely focus the overwhelming majority of their business on fossil fuels, including building new infrastructure and exploring for new reserves.  Meanwhile, the world’s top scientists and energy experts are clear that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built if the world is to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and avoid runaway climate breakdown. 

In contrast, universities like Cambridge are respected globally for upholding the highest standards of scientific integrity and intellectual rigour. Like it or not, partnerships between such higher education institutions and companies that have spent decades ignoring, silencing and discrediting these universities’ very own scientists are a PR gift for the fossil fuel industry. They allow these firms to misrepresent themselves as reformed leaders of the green transition. They send a clear message to governments, policymakers and wider civil society: if universities like Cambridge deem these companies serious on climate-related issues, why shouldn’t we? Ultimately, they help to stall desperately overdue political action to address the climate emergency.

Accepting funding from the fossil fuel industry also raises serious questions about researchers’ ability to conduct truly independent climate-related research. Academics must be free to determine their own research agendas, speak their minds and publish their findings without fear of censorship, reprisal or the denial of funding for future projects. Yet numerous studies demonstrate that industry funding skews research agendas and outcomes in directions favourable to industry interests, and that common safeguarding measures are often inadequate mitigation. This is why, for decades, research institutions have rejected tobacco industry funding for public health research. The same principle must be extended to fossil fuel funding of climate-related research. Independent climate research is just too important to tolerate such risks.

Governments and universities now have a profound responsibility to provide alternatives to industry funding. This is especially true for our wealthiest universities, which frequently accept the most fossil fuel research funding. Indeed, despite being Europe’s wealthiest university, Cambridge accepted more from oil companies between 2017 and 2021than all other UK universities bar one – Imperial College London.

Such universities have large, well-established fundraising departments capable of raising phenomenal sums. Philanthropic giving to US universities rose by 6.9 per cent in 2021 alone, topping $52 billion (£40 billion). The notion that there are no alternatives to fossil fuel industry funding is dangerously false.

Last month, more than 500 leading academics signed an open letter calling for universities to cut research ties with the fossil fuel industry. Among those supporting the letter, which is still open for signatures, are Nobel Prize winners; the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson; and numerous scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

We know the fossil fuel industry will continue to ignore the calls of these distinguished climate experts. But we expect better from our universities. Our planet is in ecological cardiac arrest, yet it is the fossil fuel industry that our universities are helping keep on life support. It is long past time for this to end.

Zak Coleman is undergraduate president of the Cambridge Students’ Union. Twitter: @SU_PresidentUG

Read the original article here.

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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 

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.

Transforming small cities into smart cities

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Media India Group of New Delhi elaborates on Transforming small cities into smart cities, as seen by the SRMIST and TERRE Policy Centre. Here is the story that could well be of interest to our readers in the MENA region of the Gulf, where Indian Nationals residents make up the great majority of inhabitants.

The picture above is for illustration and is of The Economic Times.

Transforming small cities into smart cities: SRMIST & TERRE Policy

Collaboration to conserve environment

Dr S Ponnusamy, Registrar, SRM-IST (left); Dr Rajendra Shende, Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre (right)

In order to promote on-campus activities for environmental conservation and fulfil UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, SRM institute collaborates with TERRE Policy Centre.

SRM (Sri Ramaswamy Memorial) Institute of Science and Technology (SRMIST), Chennai, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TERRE Policy Centre which is a non-profit organisation dedicated to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Our campus in Chennai is like a small city and our aim is to transform that small city to a smart city”, said Professor C Muthamizhchelvan, Vice-Chancellor of SRMIST. While speaking about signing the MoU with TERRE Policy Centre, he also said that collaborating with TERRE they would fulfil their ambition of making all their students and faculty future-ready and SDG-Ready’. “That is what I mean by smart”, he added.

SRMIST is a deemed university as well as an active member of a network of Higher Educational Institutes, called   Smart Campus Cloud Network (SCCN), launched by TERRE Policy Centre in 2017. The network is supported by UNESCO-Paris and India’s Ministry of Education through All India Council of Higher Technical Education (AICTE) and University Grant Commission (UGC).

This digital network of over 350 universities and colleges, including seven foreign universities, promotes the practical activities in the campus that contribute towards the United Nations SDGs. SCCN makes the campus a laboratory for SDGs. The network promotes ‘learning by doing’ within the campus.

In order to fulfil their objective, the network of universities encourages students as well as faculties to share the experiences of practical projects related to SDGs in the college campus. The projects deploy digital technologies like IoT (Internet of Thing), AI (Artificial Intelligence), cloud-networking, Machine-to-machine learning and BlockChain technology.

Apart from these, projects like energy efficiency, harnessing of renewable energy, waste to energy, zero-waste, green buildings, smart-grid, healthy sanitation, e-waste management, air pollution, zero-emission transport, conservation of biodiversity, ban on single-use plastic, water conservation, carbon neutrality, sustainable farming, digital agriculture are among other practices undertaken in the campus. Ideation and research on SDGs are also encouraged on the campus. The results of the practical work on the campus are shared across the universities globally through the digital cloud dashboard that TERRE has developed.

Apart from UNESCO other partners of SCCN are GORD (Gulf Organisation of Research and Development) in Qatar as well as several NGOs. TERRE also works closely with ECOSOC, UNEP, IUCN and UNFCCC.

“Through SCCN we aim to mainstream United Nations Global Goals (SDGs) in the education system where young minds are moulded”, Dr Rajendra Shende, Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre and former director of UNEP, tells Media India Group.

“The MoU has the overarching objective of skill development of the students for implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including making the campus Carbon Neutral,” he adds.

In addition to being a leading higher education and research, the institution has gained an international reputation in various fields and has evolved a comprehensive student-centric learning approach, SRM-IST has also signed carbon neutrality ledge, ‘Not Zero-Net Zero Pledge’ designed and monitored by TERRE under SCCN.

At present, SRM-IST aims to be South India’s regional hub of Smart Campus Cloud Network (SCCN). TERRE Policy Centre, through Smart Campus Cloud Network (SCCN), plans to provide overall guidance and mentoring to SRM-IST on United Nations SDGs and climate change issues

In order to inspire more institutions and organisations across the world, the success stories will be showcased on a number of network platforms including Discussion Fora on its website sccnhub.com. The progress of the activities would be monitored using smart technologies and will be visualised using a cloud platform and a real-time dashboard. The partnership with business, government and civil society would be the key axis around which this network will flourish. ‘Learning by Doing’ and ‘Accelerating by Sharing’ would be the key mantras that TERRE and SRMIST would be practising to train the students for the carbon-neutral future.

Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications

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Science‘s Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications by Jeffrey Brainard, at a time when they all seem to be still looking for a growth model especially needed in these times of pandemic. Here we have a whole region south and east of the Mediterranean whose elites had not been stranger to social mobilization and street politics in the past, presently sparing a little time to research better ways of life.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Al-Fanar Media.

Iran’s Sharif University of Technology has helped drive an increase in the country’s published scientific papers. MASOUD K/FLICKR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (CC BY-SA)

After years of lagging scientifically, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have significantly boosted their share of scholarly articles in international journals—as well as citations to those papers—during the past 4 decades, the Clarivate analytics firm said last week. Further growth could occur if the region’s countries boost their low rate of scientific cooperation with each other, it said.

From 1981 to 2019, the region quadrupled its share of research articles and reviews to 8%; among regions and large countries, only China grew by more. Clarivate’s report, based on its Web of Science bibliometric database, notes the “outstanding relative growth” of papers from the Middle East and North Africa came despite international sanctions against Iran and violent conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere.

The report covers 19 countries stretching from Morocco to Iran, but only six accounted for 80% of the 150,000 papers by the region’s scholars in 2019: Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Tunisia.

Iran led the way with 188,163 papers from 2015 to 2019; its output from 2000 to 2019 rose 30-fold. (Despite reports of paper mills and fake peer reviews involving papers by Iranian authors, the study notes efforts in Iran to tame the problem). At least some of Saudi Arabia’s expansion may have come from non-Saudi researchers affiliated with Saudi institutions.

“The notion that science and technology are essential for economic and societal progress, one of the pillars of the current policy in the European Union, applies to [this] region as well,” said Henk Moed, editor-in-chief of Scholarly Assessment Reports, a journal that covers research metrics, who was not involved in the Clarivate report. “The valuable trends presented in the Clarivate report, therefore, have a certain predictive value for economic and political relations in the region, especially in the somewhat longer term, and provide evidence that Iran’s economic and political role in the region will only grow stronger in the years to come.”

Clusters of the region’s papers focused on sustainable development, including soil erosion, and other areas of applied science, Clarivate said.

These and other publications have attracted growing attention: In 2019, 15 of the 19 countries had a citation score higher than the world average (when adjusted for differences across scholarly disciplines); in 2000, almost all had been well below.

The region’s international collaborations also increased, with 45% of its papers reporting co-authors from other countries in 2019; most often, the co-authors were in the United States. By comparison, the percentage in Western Europe was 65%. Worldwide, articles with such collaborations tend to attract higher citations. But countries in the Middle East and North Africa collaborated little with each other: Only 5% of their articles in 2019 had a co-author from a different country within the region.

Skirting the challenge of bridging long-standing tensions within the region, the Clarivate report encourages the countries to forge closer research ties, which “could improve competitiveness between the region and the rest of the world by focusing on shared needs and priorities.” One mechanism for encouraging regional collaboration could be a joint research-funding organization, similar to that of the European Union, the report said. Focusing on research might also “create more robust educational and social transformation through human resource capacity.”

“This would do much,” the report concludes, to “visibly rebuild the international reputation of Islamic, Arab, Persian and Turkish learning and scholarship that sustained the Western world for centuries.”Posted in: 

Jeffrey Brainard

Jeffrey Brainard joined Science as an associate news editor in 2017. He covers an array of topics and edits the In Brief section in the print magazine.