Featured Interview: HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal on university rankings, refugee scholars and transforming Saudi Arabia

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Prince Turki al Faisal

QS:  In your opinion, why are university rankings important?

HRH Prince Turki al Faisal: University rankings are important because they (1) promote transparency and good governance (2) provide incentives for improvement and enhancement (3) foster a performance-driven corporate culture.

The ranking system also help generate healthy competition among universities, and in the process, encourage universities to critically self-reflect. In addition, it acts as a leverage tool, providing useful and valuable information about the university to prospective sponsors, donors and employers.

University rankings are unlike accreditation bodies where only one body is involved. The ranking process is dynamic; therefore, it inevitably leads to a cycle of continuous improvement. Rankings help to inform potential and current students of the university’s progress and/or achievements, and can be a factor in attracting and retaining talents.

Lastly, university rankings play a critical role in the general public’s perception of institutional quality, acting as a form of independent assessment of offered programmes for prospective students.

QS:  How should universities help refugees?   Are universities doing enough?

HRH Prince Turki al Faisal: The recent refugee crisis is unparalleled in modern history. The world is facing the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, and there have been many initiatives instigated by both governmental and, international organizations and universities worldwide to welcome refugees and recognize their qualifications.

According to the 2016 publication of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), “Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015”, there were 65.3 million refugees, internally displaced persons, and asylum seekers, or roughly 0.9% of the world’s population.

However, only 1% of young refugees will reach tertiary education, according to a recent report on the educational chances of asylum seekers in Europe.   Highlighting statistics published by the UNHCR last year, a study by the European Students’ Union concluded that only 1% of young people with a refugee background will access post-tertiary education.

Refugees need access to education services if they are to contribute to their host country economically and socially. Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that many refugees struggle to reach university due to a number of factors, including the limited recognition of their pre-existing credits and qualifications.

In an attempt to normalize the lives of refugees, and thereby reduce the social unrest and dire poverty of refugees seen recently in Europe, efforts have been made to integrate refugees, so they can lead peaceful lives and ultimately contribute to the global community.

Some initiatives currently employed are Recognition of Prior Learning; the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees; the European University Association Refugees Welcome Map and an overview of government and university scholarships targeting refugees (for example, the European Union’s Science4Refugees programme). UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is also pushing for the recognition of refugee qualification to be a moral duty so that a whole generation is not lost due to their refugee status.   In addition to these measures, there is also a need to address refugee education, especially for those whose post-secondary education was interrupted.

Some other commendable university initiatives are:

In November 2016, Columbia University, USA, launched the Columbia Scholarship Programme for Displaced Persons, directed at displaced Syrian youth. The inspiration behind this programme was an alumnus named Arno Penzias, himself a refugee, who went on to win the 1978 Nobel Prize for Physics.

Even the renowned physicist, Albert Einstein, was a refugee.

Many UK universities are already taking steps to help refugees. For example, the University of York has earmarked £500,000 for undergraduate scholarships for displaced students, and set up a partnership with the Institute of International Education (which coordinates global scholar rescue programmes) to provide places for academics. The University of Glasgow, among others, has a partnership with the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) to provide scholarships and waive fees. Other UK universities are also tailoring scholarship schemes as part of their response, including Oxford, Sussex, Edinburgh and several of the universities in London, such as the London School of Economics (LSE), Goldsmiths, and  SOAS.

The University of Bath is working with local partner institutions in Jordan to train academics to doctoral level in areas like engineering and mathematics, and will run a local master’s programme in education to train teachers in the region. Glasgow Caledonian University is also working on ways to provide face-to-face education for Syrian refugees in neighbouring host countries.   The University of Bradford is establishing itself as a university of sanctuary, part of a broader movement to make cities and universities more welcoming places for refugees.

The UNHCR-Refugee Higher Education Programme (RHEP) is being implemented by eight universities in Japan. The universities have limited but fully funded opportunities for refugees living in Japan wanting to complete an undergraduate degree.

Japanese universities also offer research degree opportunities specifically for Syrian refugees.

Universities worldwide are really making great strides in developing a solution to the refugee crisis but there is still much more work to be done.

University research into the dynamics of this crisis would be extremely useful in formulating better initiatives. The transfer of credits from a home country to the host country will hasten the integration of refugees, as would language classes and host country cultural classes. More funding for scholarships for highly talented refugees should be made available. For those refugees with limited access to resources, universities should aim to provide an online education or even offer MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) courses, which would ideally be counted as formal credits. Academics could be paired with a refugee academic and encouraged to do collaborative research or play the role of a mentor / create a support network. Short training courses or workshops could be conducted to allow refugee academics to make a sustainable return to academia.

Universities must strive to make the lives of refugees stable and fulfilling.   Not doing this, will create a more devastating crisis.

Saudi Arabia does not consider those who have come to it from problem areas, such as Syria and Yemen as refugees. The Kingdom offer those who wish to remain in it residency permits; thus, allowing those of school and university age to apply to Saudi schools and universities.

QS:  What would you advise someone who is planning to become an international migrant scholar?

HRH Prince Turki al Faisal: I would wholeheartedly encourage any scholar who wishes to relocate to another country in the pursuit of enhanced education or research opportunities to do so. There is no doubt the host country will benefit from a diverse, highly skilled and professional workforce and the scholar from the new opportunities offered.   The scholar would play a vital role in the host country’s economy, especially in those countries with aging populations.   Scholars should definitely be encouraged to cross borders! Having said that, one must be mindful of the implications of “brain-drain” that can unnecessarily deprive nations, especially developing ones, from much needed scarce talent and human capital.