In 2008, not a single university in Saudi Arabia ranked in the top 500 list published by the Academic Ranking of World Universities. However, in the 2011 edition of the rankings the King Saud University (KSA) jumped to the 200-to-300 bracket. A story in last week’s Science, however, suggests that a boost in scientific research may not be the main reason behind this impressive jump.
According to the feature, both King Abdelaziz University (KAU) and KSA, both in Saudi Arabia, have apparently offered lucrative contracts for professorships to internationally renowned scientists where they had to spend a few weeks in the Kingdom every year but would be required to add the university as a second affiliation to their names in the Institute for Scientific Information’s (ISI) list of highly-cited researchers.
This has helped these universities rise very quickly in international rankings and get a boost to citations, though often for research that was not even conducted in Saudi Arabia, contends the article. Critics argue that this is deterring real efforts by Saudi Arabia to boost its research and international scientific standing, but supporters argue there is nothing immoral about the activities these universities are taking. “Universities buy people’s reputations all the time. In principle, this is no different from Harvard hiring a prominent researcher,” Gerry Gilmore, a KAU affiliate and astronomer at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, told Science.
Over 60 international academics have signed similar contracts with KAU alone. While Surender Jain, a retired mathematics professor from Ohio University in Athens and an adviser to KAU acknowledges that raising the international standing of KAU is one of the main aims of the programmes offering these contracts, they are also hopeful that the presence of such renowned international figures could help kick start research in the Kingdom.
While the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Higher Education has invested a lot of money in these programmes, there are also other efforts in the Kingdom to promote home-grown research. Perhaps the biggest of these is the founding of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which boosts some of the most advanced laboratories in the world and has attracted many prominent researchers from around the world as full-time faculty.
Do you think the KSU and KAU programme to raise their ranking is controversial or is it an acceptable method? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.