Saudi Universities Outrank Israeli Universities for the First Time

Universities in the Gulf have been rising through the ranks for years, but if the trend keeps up, some of the kingdom's universities will outrank Israel's top school by next year

Hebrew University of Jerusalem, August 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Some Saudi universities overtook their Israeli counterparts for the first time ever in international university rankings. The annual rankings are published by QS World University Rankings, which sorts universities based on the quality of their research, their instruction and their reputation.

The Hebrew University in Jerusalem was Israel’s highest-ranked university and the only one that managed to outrank all the Saudi universities, according to the report, released by British company Quacquarelli Symonds.

In 2018, TheMarker reported that Israel, once ranked first in the Middle East based on the volume of its scientific research, had been declining over the past two decades, and had slipped into fourth place. Iran now ranks first, followed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This ranking relates to research volume, but not quality.

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The latest rankings, however take into account the quality of research and faculty members.

The new QS rankings place Hebrew University 162 in the world, down eight places from its previous ranking of 154. Tel Aviv University ranked 219, some 11 spots better than its ranking last year. The Technion - Israel Institute of Technology ranked 257, down from 247, while Ben Gurion University of the Negev was ranked 419.

Bar-Ilan University and the University of Haifa didn’t make it into the top 500 universities, with Bar-Ilan between 551 and 560, and Haifa between 651 and 700. The University of Ariel failed to rank at all.

The top three spots were claimed by American universities: MIT, Stanford and Harvard.

Universities in the Gulf have been on an accelerated upward trajectory for years. If this trend continues, some of them will outrank Hebrew University by next year. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia is now ranked 186, 24 slots beneath Hebrew University and ahead of all the other Israeli universities. The Saudi university jumped up 45 spots in the past year, and had been ranked 360 as of 2013.

King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia is ranked at 200, ahead of all Israeli universities aside from Hebrew University. Another Saudi university, King Saud University is ranked 281.

In the United Arab Emirates, Khalifa University is ranked 268, after jumping 47 spots over the past year. And in Iran, Sharif University of Technology ranks 407. Up until 2015, it had not made the top 500 at all.