Saudi university tops Times Higher Education global ranking for gender efforts

Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University was the strongest performer in its category worldwide

Related: Manchester University first for sustainability in Times Higher Impact Education rankings 2021

A Saudi Arabian university was ranked the best in the world for its efforts to achieve gender equality, according to higher education league tables focused on sustainability published on Wednesday.

Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, described as the largest women's university in the world, topped the table released by UK magazine Times Higher Education.

Its position comes at a time when female students outnumber males in universities in the Arab world, although a study from 2017 found women made up just 7 per cent of university chancellors in the region.

The gender equality list is one of 17 tables looking at how universities perform relative to UN sustainable development goals.

Universities from Arab League territories have come out in force to demonstrate the vital role they are playing locally, regionally and globally

The UK's University of Manchester topped the average list overall, while institutions from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, the US and New Zealand also made the top 10.

Ranked joint sixth was Australia’s University of Wollongong, which has a branch in Dubai.

Four universities from Arab League nations claimed overall top 100 positions, including Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University (27th), King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia (joint 46th), the American University of Beirut (joint 87th) and Egypt’s Aswan University (95th).

Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, which dates from 1970 and took its current name in 2008, has about 39,000 students, who are taught in 35 lecture theatres and 766 classrooms.

What makes a sustainable university?

THE ranked 1,240 universities from 98 countries and regions according to their performance in achieving the 17 sustainable development goals set by the UN in 2015.

Due to be achieved by 2030, these objectives include quality education, no poverty, gender equality, zero hunger, affordable and clean energy, plus responsible consumption and production.

The best-represented country in the listings is Russia, with 86 institutions included, followed by Japan with 85, India with 57, Turkey with 55, and the UK and US with 52 each.

Brazil with 47 institutions, Pakistan and Spain with 40 each, and Iraq with 38, complete the top 10.

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There were 135 universities from 14 Arab League members represented, with 31 of these institutions, representing 11 members, among the top 100 for at least one goal.

Phil Baty, THE's chief knowledge officer, said the results of the survey showed "just how important universities across the Arab League are in working towards a sustainable world".

“Universities from Arab League territories have come out in force to demonstrate the vital role they are playing locally, regionally and globally, with some impressive results that show they are helping lead the world in achieving the SDGs,” he said.

“It is great to see the efforts and success across the region in creating happier, healthier societies and a more sustainable planet.”

Two universities from the Emirates feature among the top 100 for individual goals, namely United Arab Emirates University, which is placed 38th globally for quality education, and Al Ain University, which is ranked 82nd for the goal to provide decent work and economic growth.

UAEU’s vice chancellor, Prof Ghaleb Alhadrami, said he was “immensely proud” that the university’s best performance was in education.

“We have developed a world-class learning environment at the university, spearheaded by modern teaching methods, state-of-the-art facilities, and a high calibre, internationally diverse faculty,” he said.

The university was also ranked for other goals, including for clean water and sanitation, where it was placed between 201st and 300th out of 520, in part thanks to efforts to cut water use that have saved 200,000 cubic metres over the past five years.

Taps with limited flow rate were installed in kitchens and desert plants that use little water selected for the campus gardens.

An energy monitoring system in 42 campus buildings helped UAEU achieve a ranking of between 201st and 300th out of 560 for the affordable and clean energy goal.

UAEU was ranked between 201st and 300th out of 776 for gender equality, and from 301st to 400th for “partnerships for the goals”.

Separate to its Impact Rankings looking at how universities perform in terms of sustainability, THE publishes a variety of other league tables, including its World University Rankings.

The most recent version, published last year, put the UK’s University of Oxford at the top, followed by Stanford University and Harvard University, both in the US.