Last year, Saudi King Abdullah announced the formation of a new research university—the King Abdullah University for Science & Technology (KAUST)—in an attempt to once again put Arab thinkers in the forefront of science. This multi-billion dollar project, whose groundbreaking I will attend tomorrow, is a fascinating experiment to watch. How will a new university attract top-notch faculty and scholars?
This is a chicken and egg conundrum, with the need to build the battery at the same time.
Money may help with the faculty question, but also the opportunity to be a ‘founding father’ of an entirely new institution. Faculty will be offered non-tenured positions with renewable or rolling two-five year contracts. They can also keep their home university affiliations in a sharing operation so that they do not lose tenure
Top-notch faculty is expected to draw a top-notch student body as science graduate students tend to follow the name teachers rather than just the institution. But here, too, money may help. The Saudis are offering generous scholarships and fellowships to those assessed as having high potential. Two types of assistance are being offered: ‘Discovery Scholarships’ providing full tuition support to every student enrolled, and ‘King Abdullah Scholar Awards’ for outstanding doctoral students which will permit them to support their continued research efforts at their current universities. The award include generous funding for those projects, travel costs, and a stipend.
Undergraduate students can also be considered for scholarships. These will pay the full tuition for their remaining undergraduate studies, a stipend, textbook allowance, and other benefits in return for a commitment to do graduate study at KAUST.
Assessment is being handled by third-parties, including international academics and academic societies.
The search for faculty is now in progress, as is that for students to start classes in September 2009. A presidential search committee is expected to announce their selection in December of this year.
Facilities construction is now underway—you can see 3D architectural renderings at the KAUST website. The campus will cover nearly 14 square miles of territory, with about half of that in the marine ecosystem of the Red Sea and its reefs.
The project is being handled by Saudi-ARAMCO, with many of its senior staff being seconded to KAUST until it is up and running and full-time professional staff takes over their duties. This is not a matter of simple R&D for ARAMCO, but rather an acknowledgment that it is one of the most effectively function, if not the most effectively functional organization in the KSA. It’s not dissimilar from the way the US Army Corps of Engineers used to be before its reputation was tarnished by the New Orleans dikes. Competence is still a rare commodity in the KSA. ARAMCO has it and intends to pass it on to KAUST.
This project is so encompassing that it’s hard to describe. Perhaps distinguishing it from other Saudi universities is the most telling way to do so:
Among the many differences that set this university apart from other Saudi universities are:
1. It is not part of the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education
2. It is fully co-educational
3. It will have its own international school for the children of faculty and students
I look forward to attending the groundbreaking ceremony tomorrow and the symposium on Monday where the goals of the institution will be spelled out. More to come on this topic.