New Study Provides Standardized Framework for Understanding Higher Education Institutions in the Middle East

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A groundbreaking study provides baseline for improving quality of higher education in the Middle East and North Africa region.

A new report released by the Institute of International Education (IIE) lays the groundwork for a new classification model for higher education institutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region countries. The report, “Classifying Higher Education Institutions in the Middle East and North Africa: A Pilot Study,” was produced by IIE with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York and in partnership with the Lebanese Association of Educational Studies (LAES) in Beirut. 

While the number of global and country-level ranking and classification systems continues to increase, a regional classification of higher education institutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has not been developed. Such a system is particularly needed given the rapid expansion of the higher education sector in the region, as new domestic institutions and branch campuses of overseas institutions emerge and as developments associated with the Arab Spring lead to changes in the governance system of higher education, resulting in the potential for greater international collaboration and educational reform. 

“There is no standardized framework for understanding the region’s institutions,” said Rajika Bhandari, deputy vice president of research and evaluation at the Institute of International Education and the lead researcher for the study. “Having more comparable information such as that provided by our study will lead to a deeper and more transparent understanding of the wide range of institutions in the Arab world and how best to engage with them at a national, regional and global level.”

The pilot study, which was initiated in May 2009, surveyed over 300 higher education institutions in seven pilot countries: Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Egypt was originally included in the study but data was ultimately not available due to the political events unfolding there. The findings from the report were first presented at the 3rd World Innovation Summit on Education in Doha earlier this month. “Many higher education systems in the region are undergoing a transition from old systems to new,” said Adnan El Amine, co-author of the report, and a founding member of the Lebanese Association for Education Studies. “Overall, Arab institutions’ involvement at the international level is relatively low. Yet there is a critical need for institutions of the region to engage with those outside, especially as they rebuild their societies after the recent political events and begin to engage a newly mobilized youth population.” 

The IIE study resulted in a comprehensive classification model—the Classification Model for the Arab Countries (CMAC)—comprised of 77 key institutional and research indicators that fall within the following 11 dimensions: institutional characteristics; teaching and learning profile; curriculum; student profile; faculty profile; financial profile; research involvement; cultural orientation; religious orientation; regional engagement; and international engagement. 

The goals of this new classification model are to:

* Help strengthen MENA institutions locally by providing benchmarks and key indicators on which institutions can measure and track their growth and compare themselves to similar institutions.

* Generate international interest in the region’s institutions, leading to deeper linkages between MENA HEIs and other institutions around the world to facilitate knowledge sharing, research collaboration, and institutional capacity building.

* Provide critical institutional-level information and data that prospective students from the MENA region or from other parts of the world can use to select a higher education institution.  

The online report is available for purchase at, where you can also download the executive summary for free. An expanded printed version of the report will be available in late January, 2012. 

Institute of International Education

The Institute of International Education is a world leader in the international exchange of people and ideas. An independent, not-for-profit organization founded in 1919, IIE has network of 18 offices worldwide and over 1,100 member institutions. IIE designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals, and trainees from all sectors with funding from government agencies, foundations, and corporations. IIE also conducts policy research in the internationalization of higher education; program evaluations of international education programs; and provides advising and counseling on international education and opportunities abroad. IIE publishes books on international education trends, higher education policy issues, and student mobility statistics. IIE has work extensively in the MENA region on implementing a range of programs to build leadership capacity and expand access to higher education in the region.