UAE universities need to improve the quality of their research in order to move up global higher education rankings, experts said.
Khalifa University, in Abu Dhabi, which placed at 990, was the only institute in the Emirates to crack the top 1,000 of a new league table of international universities released on Monday.
Another three UAE universities were included in the top 2,000 of the index, with UAE University positioned at 1,150, the University of Sharjah landing at at 1,961, and American University of Sharjah ranked 1,976.
The Centre for World University Rankings measures education facilities on a range of criteria, including quality of education, the success rate of graduates securing chief executive positions in major companies, its research output and the number of research papers publishing in leading journals.
The four UAE universities on the list are ranked in the top ten per cent of institutions in the world, but those responsible for creating the league table are confident they can further boost their standing.
The Centre for World University Rankings, based in Ras Al Khaimah, is a consultative organisation providing policy and strategic advice to government and universities.
It has published annual rankings of universities since 2012.
"It is great to see the UAE improving and represented by four universities in the rankings," said Nadim Mahassen, president of the Centre for World University Rankings.
"More funding for education and research will increase the country’s global competitiveness and allow UAE institutions to challenge those higher up in the standings.
"The universities are doing well but they do not focus much on research which is a key for success in the world university rankings. To improve further, they need to produce better quality research published in better journals."
He said Khalifa University has bolstered its research since being formed out of a merger of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, the Petroleum Institute and Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research in 2017.
King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia was the top performing facility in the Middle East, standing at 300, ahead of King Saud University at 396 and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology at 431.
Saudi Arabia has seven institutions listed in the rankings, followed by the UAE with four, with Qatar, Kuwait and Oman having one university each in the list.
Elysa Bryen, director of programme development at Hale Education Group, an education consulting group in Dubai, said UAE universities are catching up on research but need to focus on preparing students for their future careers.
"The UAE has developed more options for study but this is focused on technical aspects like accounting," said Ms Bryen.
"UAE universities need to develop robust career services. Are students given internship opportunities at the level that student at the US universities might be? That really boosts the ranking of universities. Also, universities need to prepare students for a career in different parts of the world."
Globally, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University in the United States have taken the top three slots in the rankings.
However, the overall rankings found that US and UK universities are slipping as Chinese universities overtake them.
The number of US universities in the worldwide top 1,000 dropped by five per cent compared to five years ago.
The UK, while claiming the top four positions in Europe and 63 places in the global top 1,000, has also seen a three per cent drop in the top 1,000 in the past five years.
China has witnessed a 37 per cent increase in the number of its institutions in the same period, buoyed by increased government funding.
“While this year’s rankings confirm that the United States has the top higher education the system in the world, the standings of the majority of the US institutions, will be at great risk if funding for higher education is cut by the Trump administration," said Mr Mahassen.
"The current political instability in the country and financial uncertainty for universities may pose a risk to the position of the United Kingdom’s institutions.
"Chinese institutions are starting to challenge Western universities, and American and European institutions cannot afford to rest on their laurels."