The groundbreaking of KAUST was the biggest news in Saudi Arabia during the past two weeks. King Abdullah officially broke ground for the promising project in a huge event attended by thousands of dignitaries. I wasn’t invited, but fellow blogger John Burgess was there and he wrote about it here.
Since I have been offline for the past few days I have not closely followed what has been said about it, but I have written previously about KAUST, way before anyone in the local media had the slightest idea what the acronym KAUST stands for. I have a few more things to say, though, so here it goes.
There is no doubt that if KAUST delivered all of its promises, it will be the most important achievement that King Abdullah will be remembered by, and many people here feel that the king is very determined to make it happen. But not all people are excited, as some are afraid that a huge project like KAUST could be plagued by the three common symptoms of higher education institutions in the country: corruption, bureaucracy and mismanagement. Now I don’t want to be skeptical, but I think a certain amount of skepticism is required to keep people’s feet on the ground in order to turn big dreams like this one into reality.
Nevertheless, most of the initial indications are good. For example, KAUST will be independent from MOHE. Actually I was surprised that MOHE was not involved in the project at all, but it was a good kind of surprise as MOHE never really impressed me. It was Saudi Aramco who engineered this project from scratch. Despite what many people, including some Aramco employees, say about how Aramco changed to the worse after the Americans left, it remains one of the few government bodies that I trust and expect to preform excellently.
Now I have speculated before that megaprojects such as KAUST and the new economic cities might change the culture of the country. However, it seems that such change may not be a result but rather a condition for these projects to success.
For instance, Saudi Arabia used to be a very closed society with a what can be viewed as hostility towards foreign ideas. On the day after groundbreaking, KAUST hosted a special academic symposium discussing the role of the research university in the 21st century, and the keynote speaker was Dr. Charles Vest, President of the National Academy of Engineering and President Emeritus of MIT, who said: “science can flourish only in an open environment.”
It is the hope that KAUST would produce a positive effect on the economy, education and culture of the Saudi society, but hope is not enough. This a huge undertaking to our country and there is a lot of hard work to be done here by everyone. Let’s not blow it.
5 thoughts on “More on KAUST”
“‘King’ Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is a war criminal like GW Bush, Tony Blair, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell …. Without Abdullah’s approval, his financial and material support for ‘the coalition of the willing’ and their mercenaries, the Iraqi genocide would not have occurred.”
I agree with you that the groundbreaking of KAUST is a historical moment for the Kingdom and also further documenting that change and reform in the Kingdom is very much underway.
There are still a lot of hurdles that need to be overcome, and some of those hurdles will be there for years to come.
I think it auspicious beginning, but great care and attention will be needed to ensure that KAUST works and continues to work.
I feel pity for Quality of Girls’ education in Saudi; because they are not given enough choices and they don’t have enough resources as compared to the boys. It is beneficial if they adopt co-ed in Saudi because. It’ll help solve a lot of problems in the society to a large extent. For example this may be a start to more liberal libraries in terms of quality and quantity of resources available. And slowly it will be a normal thing all around the country. It will also allow people to study more, (maybe to impress) and increase their competitiveness, to pursue better grades, better research papers, reports and careers etc. This University can make it an ordinary kind of a thing. Even according to the Islamic Rules and Regulations it is not “Haraam” (forbidden) to study together, as long as you stay in certain limits. If someone wants to wear a veil, then its up to them. They can still study in the same class and do group projects for mutual benefit. Why does every one thinks about the oNe and only one thing? It’s the culture we are fighting with. People have to change their thinking and have trust in their sons and daughters. The Uni must have a strict admission policy to get outstanding students and to avoid different problems.
I have had very well intentioned and involved interactions with KAUST, including their Global Research Partnerships and the fellowships. I now have no doubt that this is yet another waste of huge financial resources that the population of this developing country badly needs. Saudi Arabia’s GDP is $20,000. This is not a rich country, they have an illiteracy problem, human rights problems, no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech, a huge economical chasim between the rich and the severely poor. They are better off building their economy from the bottom up, i.e. better educating their population at the elementary, secondary, and college level. Such developments will naturally lead to well earned freedoms that will enable world class Graduate research institutions. This is a mislead and out of touch effort by elite ARAMCO officials and intellectuals. This maybe salvaged by adding a few Economists to their team, preferrably economists from developing countries such as India, Turkey, Malaysia and Singapore.
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