By Haidar M. Harmanani
The CWTS Leiden Rankings 2017 were released on May 17, and provided a fresh outlook into the performance of 902 major universities from 54 different countries, including universities from four Arab countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.
The rankings provide a multidimensional perspective on university performance, and are based on the size of university scientific publication output. The rankings do not take into account other dimensions of university performance, such as teaching.
The rankings use core publications in international scientific journals in order to analyze the scientific impact of a university and understand the participation of a university in scientific collaborations. The research impact is calculated based on a fractional counting method.
All universities worldwide with more than 1,000 fractionally counted Web of Science indexed core publications in the period 2012–2015 are included in the latest rankings.
In the Arab region, only 10 universities made the 902 short list. Egypt and Saudi Arabia were represented by four universities each. They were followed by Lebanon and Tunisia with one each.
Considering the number of core publications, the rankings are led by King Saud University with 4,896 fractionally counted publications, followed by King Abdulaziz University with 3,436 publications, and Cairo University with 2,866 publications.
However, when research quality is considered, King Abdulaziz University came in first with 341 top 10% publications, followed by King Abdullah University Science & Technology with 292, and King Saud University with 287.
Increasing the margin to publications in the top 50%, King Saud University came in first with 1,951 top 50% publications, followed by King Abdulaziz University with 1,635, and King Abdullah University Science & Technology with 1,276.
In terms of collaboration, King Saud University came in first with 10,715 non-fractionally counted interinstitutional publications, 41% of which were published with institutions that are 5000 km or farther.
King Abdulaziz University came in second with 10,643 interinstitutional publications, and Cairo University at a distant third with 5758 interinstitutional publications. The American University of Beirut was the University with the least number of interinstitutional publications.
The Leiden Rankings do not rely on subjective data obtained from reputational surveys or on data provided by universities themselves. Furthermore, although CWTS has collected the necessary metrics for collaboration, one needs to explicitly select the indicator based on which the university is to be ranked.
This is in contrast to the majority of prevailing rankings which use subjective weights, and rely on flimsy proxies for teaching quality and diversity. Such rankings often use composite mathematical formulae in order to reduce complex universities to a single score. The Leiden Rankings refrain from aggregating different dimensions of university performance into a single overall indicator.
The Leiden Rankings consistently present size-dependent and size-independent indicators (e.g., the number and the percentage of highly cited publications), highlighting that both types of indicators need to be taken into account.
Haidar M. Harmanani is a Professor of Computer Science at the Lebanese American University, Byblos, Lebanon.