The gathering of more than 100 leaders at Abu Dhabi University for the inaugural THE MENA Reputation Forum produced a day of debate and sharing, adding a particular Arab World flavour to the global discussion about higher education reputation. 

My five key takeaways from the discussions were:  

REPUTATION IS A STRATEGIC PRIORITY:  Reputation management is now clearly understood as a strategic rather than a tactical priority both in the MENA region and globally. I chaired a panel with institutional leaders Ghassan Aouad, Chancellor, Abu Dhabi University and Mariet Westerman, Vice-Chancellor, New York University Abu Dhabi, that brought to life the focus on reputation as a key driver for institutions.  Maryam Khan, Adviser in the Ministry of Education, Government of UAE, outlined clearly how the reputation of individual institutions, as well as the sector, play a vital role for governments in an increasingly globally competitive environment. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING STAKEHOLDER PERCEPTIONS:  Universities have multiple reputations and really need to understand the perceptions of multiple audiences if they are going to be successful. This point was made in a great session with Professor Robin Mason and Professor Yusra Mouzaghi from the University of Birmingham, which explored the complexities for universities in understanding and responding to their wide range of stakeholders. 

THE REPUTATION OF ARAB UNIVERSITIES IS GROWING: Arab world universities are leading the way in growing their global reputations, as evidenced clearly in the launch of the latest THE World Reputation Rankings.  Nine Arab world institutions appeared amongst the top 200 in the world in the latest version, compared to just three in the previous year.  My THE colleague Mark Caddow outlined some of the trends emerging from the data that informs the rankings, derived from the THE Academic Reputation Survey with global published faculty. Arab world universities have been successful at attracting more votes from the region, whilst the leading US and UK institutions that dominate the upper reaches of the ranking have a more international spread of votes. 

THE HUMAN ELEMENT OF REPUTATION: Reputation is built not just through the performance of universities in their key missions of teaching and research, but through intangibles such as respect and tolerance. That was the key message of a session I chaired with Debora Kayembe, Rector of the University of Edinburgh, who outlined passionately the importance of universities focusing on the human elements of their work when building reputation. 

THE DIVERSITY OF REPUTATION STRATEGIES: Strategies for building reputation come in many shapes and sizes. This was made clear in the final session of the Forum that I chaired, featuring case studies from Arab World universities. Professor Ebtissam Al Madi outlined how Almaarefa University in Saudi Arabia is focusing on building its reputation as a new university.  Dr Khaled Assaleh, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Ajman University, showed how a focus on international co-authorships is driving a dramatic growth in global reputation. Dr Diane Nauffal, from Lebanese American University, outlined a diverse series of projects that are having an impact on reputation with key stakeholders. Finally, Professor Fiona Robson, from Heriot-Watt University Dubai, showed how exploiting the opportunities presented by a global event – in this case COP 28 – can help build reputation. 

The Forum was a great addition to the global conversation about university reputation that we have been encouraging for the past 17 years through the World 100 Reputation Network and with Times Higher Education. Arab World institutions are really grasping the opportunity to think and act strategically, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue, not least at the THE Arab World summit in Amman, Jordan later in the year. 

Written by Mark Sudbury.