‘All surface and no depth’ is the complaint. Saudi Gazette republishes a piece that originally appeared in the Arabic Al-Madinah newspaper about how the ministries in Saudi Arabia’s government tend toward the ostentatious and flamboyant rather than the substantive. The article talks about the resent Higher Education Exhibition in which foreign universities had modest displays while those from Saudi universities were replete with gewgaws and bling, up to and including interior waterfalls.

The article laments the amount of money needlessly being spent on display. That government agencies have a way of wasting other people’s money is not news, however. The US government is in the midst of a scandal concerning a conference held by the General Services Administration (GSA). The conference cost over $800K and included all sorts of things not usually related to business conferences and definitely not related to wise use of government funds. Several people have been forced out of their jobs as a result and criminal charges may be pending for others.

Ostentatious display by Saudi universities at education expo
Abdullah Al-Jamili | Al-Madina newspaper

LAST week the Higher Education Exhibition and Conference was held in Riyadh, the turnout was high with over 450 universities from 39 countries participating. Truly, it was one of the most successful exhibitions held in the Kingdom in terms of organization and the tangible benefits it provided to male and female students who went home with a greater understanding of how universities from all over the world operate.

Students were made aware of their capabilities and potential and were exposed to different education systems. The objective was also to help Saudi universities interact and exchange expertise and academic partnerships with some of the world’s most prestigious universities.

The foreign universities had admirable objectives and they conveyed their messages economically. Their pavilions were small and modest yet provided a plethora of information. However, Saudi universities were the complete opposite.

The pavilions run by the Ministry of Higher Education and Saudi universities were extravagant and resembled a spectacular pageant.

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