Mena universities ascend the new world rankings

Six Mena institutions included in the top 350 Times Higher Education World University rankings 2021

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University has been named the Mena region’s top-ranked institution for the sixth consecutive year.

The Jeddah university retained its place in the 201-250 position in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021.

Lebanon’s American University of Beirut moved up the rankings to the 301-350 band.

The No 1 slot went to the UK’s University of Oxford for the fifth year running.


Saudi Arabia’s Alfaisal University took the second-highest Mena ranking, in the 251-300 bracket.

Their ranks have been described as “impressive” by the organisers who say this year there were a record 1,527 institutions qualifying.

United Arab Emirates University and Iran’s Kurdistan University of Medical Sciences were ranked in the top 350, followed by the UAE’s Khalifa University and Iran’s Babol Noshirvani University of Technology in the top 400.


The wider rankings saw the United States dominate the top 10 and mainland China's Tsinghua University becoming the first Asian university to break into the top 20 since the current methodology began in 2011.

“While Saudi Arabia continues to top the World University Ranking for Mena, with an impressive sixth consecutive year in the 201-250 band for King Abdulaziz University, it is testament to the growing strength of higher education across the Middle East to see Lebanon and Iran also move into the top 350,” said Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at Times Higher Education (THE).

...we could be seeing the start of a rebalancing of the global knowledge economy

“As China’s Tsinghua University disrupts the traditional domination of western universities at the top of the table, breaking into the top 20 for the first time, we could be seeing the start of a rebalancing of the global knowledge economy that could be further accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

"With a likely decrease in the international flow of students and staff around the world, and possible funding challenges among the West's established higher-education sectors as a result of Covid-19, we could see universities across Mena and Asia capitalise if home-grown talent stays put rather than making its traditional migration to elite Western institutions, particularly in the US and the UK."

The ranking assessed 13 separate performance criteria covering a range of core activities for research-intensive universities including teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

This year’s ranking analysed over 86 million citations across more than 13.6 million research publications and included survey responses from 22,000 scholars globally. The 17th edition of the rankings sees a record 18 countries and regions represented in the top 100, and 93 represented overall.

On Monday, PwC Middle East warned the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit held online that Mena universities needed to adapt quickly in an attempt to ride out the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's encouraging to see a couple of strong Saudi universities holding their own this year despite the increased competition, and my heartfelt congratulations for American University of Beirut, who managed to improve their ranking,” said Sally Jeffery, global education and skills network leader at PwC Middle East.

"It's clear though that most Middle Eastern research-focused universities need to transform faster and smarter to fuel the region's knowledge economy. During the pandemic, many of the regulations and traditional governance structures that often constrain agility had to be relaxed. I sincerely hope the sector can recognise and build on the positive outcomes of this experience in the future."