Saudi Arabia made international news this past week with the inauguration of KAUST - King Abdullah University for Sciences and Technology. A longtime dream of King Abullah's, KAUST's glitzy inaugural celebration was held on September 23rd - coinciding with Saudi National Day - in an academically star-studded ceremony attended by various dignitiaries, such as heads of state, Nobel prize winners, and world business icons. The unique university is located 50 miles north of Jeddah in the small fishing community called Thuwal on the Red Sea. Erected out of the desert sands from scratch in an astonishingly short time frame, KAUST went from dream to reality in less than three years.
The top notch facility has attracted the world's cream of the crop in every capacity from students to administrative and teaching positions. Students from fifty different countries have enrolled in KAUST, and from what I understand, all of the students are on full scholarships or fellowships. With the goal of research and advancing science, KAUST specialized fields include math and computers, science and engineering, bioscience and bioengineering, and resources, energy and the environment. Developing solar energy is one of the specific aims of KAUST, in hopes that solar power will, in the near future, handle much of the Kingdom's energy requirements, plus become an important export for Saudi Arabia, along the scale of oil itself.
The expansive KAUST grounds include a coral reef ecosystem which will be preserved as a marine sanctuary by the university, as well as housing for all administration, faculty and students, shopping, recreation, health services, dozens of parks, plus schooling for employees' children. KAUST also provides nifty transportation services including shuttles into Thuwal and Jeddah, golf carts and electric cars for sharing, and bike paths.
The building of this advanced degree research university has not been without controversy. The innovative institution is the first university level educational facility within Saudi Arabia to offer co-ed classes, a revolutionary idea in this sexually segregated Islamic society. But most of the grumblings have focused on the legendary poor quality of education within the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia's public school system has long been criticized for producing ill-prepared students unable to aspire to higher education or the job force, and instead choosing to rigorously emphasize religious indoctrination over the basics like math and science. Thanks to King Abdullah, the entire system is being revamped, from the curriculum to teaching methods to the quality of the teachers themselves.
John Burgess from Crossroads Arabia was fortunate enough to have been invited to attend the spectacular inauguration and you can read his firsthand account of the festivities here.
Here are some other links pertaining to KAUST:
The official KAUST website
Saudi Aggie - a blog written by a KAUST student
Reuters news article about KAUST and the Saudi educational system
Arab News article titled "KAUST: King's Gift to the World"
Saudi King's University Slammed for Coed Classes