40 Countries Represented at the QS Middle East and Africa Professional Leaders in Education Conference

MApleBy John O’Leary

More than 300 academics and administrators from 40 countries attended the biggest-ever Middle East and Africa Professional Leaders in Education (QS-MAPLE) conference in Abu Dhabi this month. The proceedings were streamed live to 30 countries.

Over 100 of the delegates stayed on for a separate consultation the following day on plans for a new QS ranking of universities in the Arab World. Debate centred on whether the ranking should cover only Arab countries or the whole of the Middle East. But there were a number of proposals on the measures to be used in the exercise and for sources of data to ensure the widest possible coverage of research in Arabic.

The session, which took place at Khalifa University of Science and Technology, followed two days of discussion and networking in the main conference. The university, founded in 2007 with a strong research brief, was one of the two main sponsors of QS-MAPLE, with the Abu Dhabi Education Council.

Among the plenary speakers was Professor Sultan Orabi, Secretary General of the Association of Arab Universities, who appealed for stronger investment in the region’s higher education systems and more autonomy for its universities. He said that talented academics were often denied promotion in favour of longer-serving colleagues and paid too little to prevent them joining the brain drain.

Almost a third of qualified graduates were leaving for Western countries, he said, half of them trained doctors. Instability in the region since the ‘Arab Spring’ had accelerated the process. Universities could only reach their full potential with political stability and better salaries and incentives.

The conference saw the award of two scholarships to two students from Khalifa University. Derek Bastienne, who is studying aerospace engineering, and Abdul Rahman, an undergraduate in mechanical engineering, received $6,000 from the QS Education Trust. The trust uses the surplus from delegates’ fees at QS conferences for scholarships and other philanthropic activities.

There was also a new series of QS Asia Creative Awards for university website and marketing materials, won by Dar Al-Hekma University, in Saudi Arabia; Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore, and the University of Newcastle, Australia. At the same session, the University of Malaya was awarded 5 QS Stars, University of Malaysia Perlis 3 Stars; and the University of Babylon, in Iraq, 2 Stars.

Next year’s conference will be in May 2015 in Doha, with Qatar University as the host institution. Universities in Sub-Saharan Africa will have their own conference in Rwanda later in the year.

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