IREG Forum 2017 launched
QU launched on March 13 the IREG Forum 2017: “Excellence as the University Driving Force”, aimed to provide a platform to discuss the various aspects of academic excellence, and to learn about new initiatives in academic rankings.
The 2-day forum (March 13-14) is the first of its kind in the region. It is organized in collaboration with IREG Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence (IREG Observatory).
The opening session was attended by QU President Dr Hassan Al Derham, Economic Adviser at Amiri Diwan and Member of QU Board of Regents H.E. Dr Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim, IREG Observatory President Dr Jan Sadlak, The World Bank Lead Global Solutions Group on Tertiary Education and Lead Education Specialist for India Dr Francisco Marmolejo, ranking experts and representatives of local and international academic institutions, as well as QU officials, faculty and staff.
Keynoted addresses were delivered by H.E. Dr Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim on “Excellence in Higher Education and its role in Qatar National Vision 2030” and Dr Francisco Marmolejo on “Benefits and excesses in the use of rankings”.
The Day One program featured four (4) sessions entitled “Excellence as a "set of standards and guidance" for functioning and development of the university”, “Excellence as "a framework" for teaching and organization of studies in the context of the needs of a country or a region”, “Excellence in the context of cultural and economic transformations”, and “Principles of "excellence" in various academic disciplines and institutional settings”. Participants included higher education experts and university faculty and specialists from education-related organizations from Brazil, China, India, Kazakhstan, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, South Africa, Turkey, UK, United Arab Emirates, and the USA.
Presentations focused on a wide range of issues such as “Challenge from Mid-Ranking Universities: Findings of Firetail Report - Class of 2030: Which Universities Will Rise – And How Will They Do It?”, “How is Ranking Adopted in Setting WCU Policies in China?”, “An internal look and a comparative analysis with the rest of the world”, “Redefining Excellence for Higher Education in the Arab Region: Strategies and Lessons Learned”, “University Rankings and the Competition for Prestige, Excellence, and Funding - in the Context of Central Europe and Its Reform Agendas”, “Education Modalities: challenges of international frameworks for non-traditional learning environments in MENA countries”, “Why Excellence Is the Best Place to Begin: The Transformative Power of Effective Leadership In Professional Contexts”, “New Approach in Meeting Challenges of Wider Access and Pursuing Excellence in Brazilian Higher Education”, “Excellence and world class: are university rankings helpful for societies in transition?”, “Ranking System Framework for Higher Educational Institutions of India – Empowering Tool for Enhancement of Quality”, “Bibliometric Indicators of Research Excellence: Their Uses and Limitations”, and “Universities’ commitment to excellence in knowledge transfer and social entrepreneurship: KAU case study”.
In his remarks, Dr Hassan Al Derham said: “Today, as we are co-hosting the IREG Forum 2017 for the first time in Qatar and the region, I would like to welcome our distinguished audience of local, regional and international experts who acknowledge the importance of assessing the indicators of university rankings. Despite of many challenges, Qatar University has achieved over the last years numerous achievements in regional and international rankings. This success could not be achieved without the support of our wise leadership that initiated Qatar National Vision with the aim to establish a knowledge-based economy in Qatar by 2030. At Qatar University, we have completed the preparation of our new strategic plan and restructuring process towards maintaining excellence and quality assurance at the academic and administrative levels.”
He added: “I would like to highlight two major points. The first one is the necessity to define if ranking is a means or an end. In other words, does ranking lead towards more benefits or is it a means to define a university position among other academic institutions? At Qatar University, we have had many discussions to reach a clear and well-defined answer to this question. We believe that ranking is a means to compare our level of excellence with other academic institutions, to measure our research effectiveness, to evaluate our commitment in meeting the needs of the labor market, and to assess our relationship with regional and international partners. As part of its commitment to providing high-quality education in areas of national priority, Qatar University has been successful in its accreditation initiatives for its colleges and programs, and as we know, accreditation is an important key of performance measurement. Hence, quality assessment covers two factors: international ranking and academic accreditation. We may discuss later how these two factors are correlated.”
He further added: “The second point covers ranking standards. Do they reflect the actual position of universities around the world? Are they well balanced and aligned with the needs of the societies in emerging and developing countries? Universities are established to lead societies and fulfill their ever-increasing academic and research needs. Are international rankings equally assessing the needs of societies by following a balanced approach? Do the ranking standards align with the needs of the emerging and developing countries? This is not a call to create specific rankings for each region because this may lead to a process of classification among universities. However, we aim to reconsider all ranking standards to make them more comprehensive and flexible, in line with the needs of the region. We have recently met with international ranking institutions from which we received feedback in this regard. Now, it is the time to get the view of IREG Observatory as an expert in the field of ranking, especially that IREG has various ranking interests that meet the objectives of Qatar University.”
H.E. Dr Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim said: “First, let me thank Qatar University for hosting this forum. I am particularly grateful that you decided to focus on the quality of higher education in Qatar as it goes right to the core of the tasks we are working on in the implementation of Qatar National Vision 2030. In the face of considerable challenges (the economic crisis, changing world demographics, the emergence of new competitors, new technologies and modes of working) Qatari education sector cannot be complacent. Qatar needs to become more outward-looking and more innovative. For Qatar to reach its potential as a society, it must enlarge its pool of talents. Higher education needs to become more inclusive so Qatar is able to draw on the talents of a wider range of people, from all sectors of society – and especially groups who have not traditionally taken part in higher education. That in itself represents Qatar University’s first challenge.”
He added: “And for Qatar University to provide quality, relevant higher education to more students from diverse backgrounds, it has designed mechanisms to support the students and bridge the gap between the level of education of incoming students and its own levels that are, and have to remain of international standards. On the other side of the spectrum, the university provides opportunities for its current students to engage in more advanced courses and in new forms of teaching and learning such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that are opening up new opportunities in education, and giving the university a chance to reshape the education systems.”
He further added: “Qatar University needs to equip students with the entrepreneurial and work-relevant skills they need. The 14 research centers the university created are essential in that endeavor. They propose a new approach to innovation based on structured partnerships between universities, research centers and businesses. Such centers help the country use the potential of higher education to re-energize its society and to organize a genuine mindset change towards a more entrepreneurial culture. The Qatar National Research Fund, established in 2006, is also another source of strength at the national level, helping in that direction. It has a clearly defined vision: "To enable research and development excellence in Qatar in order to achieve a knowledge-based economy". Qatar University has been making full use of this fund in the last five years, becoming one of the fastest growing institutions for research in the region. Its researchers’ publications have increased by approximately 246 per cent in this period. Qatar University has been able to “flourish” on rankings, despite the flaws in the rankings methodology and to score well worldwide by top ranking institutes (QS and THE), benefiting from its balanced performance in research output and academic reputation. These results prove that the efforts of Qatar to invest its wealth into education and research are bringing rewards in the ranking systems. I hope that by the end of these three days of intense work, all the ranking experts brainstorming with us in Doha will be able to provide us with the answers we seek from rankings and inform us and other stakeholders on: how well we deliver teaching and learning, transfer knowledge and promote innovation, interact with our community to create skills and job opportunities, and invest these back into the society.”
Dr Jan Sadlak said: “There are a number of reasons for the increased attention to excellence. They can be summarized in the following way; higher education became a key mechanism for economic and social development. As ranking is gaining importance in society, it is increasingly subject to competition and various expectations of the major stakeholders in higher education and science. The program of today’s conference includes a number of examples on how institutions are dealing with such challenges.”
He added: “Similarly to the previous IREG meetings, this conference provides us with the opportunity to learn about the latest developments in academic ranking. I expect that this conference will be a good example of IREG Observatory’s overall organizational philosophy to identify improvement and innovation no matter of the local and international variances and practices.”
Dr Francisco Marmolejo said: “This forum provides a platform to discuss the challenges that the higher education sector is facing on the global level and the impact of ranking. Ranking has put a tremendous pressure on higher education institutions for the wrong reasons and with the wrong tools. This creates an important challenge for higher education institutions. There are significant benefits of ranking as it becomes a proxy of quality of higher education institutions, a source of comparison and a good tool for decision-making. However, higher education institutions should be careful about excessively relying on rankings as the main indicator of excellence and relevance in higher education. Ranking should be seen as a means or tool not as an end.”