KAUST to fulfilling King’s dream of creating knowledge economy in Saudi Arabia


Jeddah : Nadhmi A. Al-Nasr, the interim president of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), envisions the new research-based institution as a catalyst for creating a knowledge economy in Saudi Arabia — which is a long-standing dream of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah himself.

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Al-Nasr said in an exclusive interview with Arab News yesterday that SR10 billion university will be a graduate-level research institution instead of an undergraduate one.

“It is the vision of King Abdullah to have this university as a turning point in higher education,” he said. “Hopefully, it will act as a catalyst in transforming Saudi Arabia into a knowledge economy, by directly integrating research produced at the university into our economy.”

The new university’s ground-breaking ceremony takes place later today at Thuwal which is 100 km off Jeddah. Top academics from around the world are expected to take part in the landmark event.

Al-Nasr said that English would be the medium of instruction at the university. It will be modeled on such institutions as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University. Classrooms will open in September 2009, Al-Nasr said.

The university’s research agenda aims to accelerate scientific discovery and technological innovation, said Al-Nasr.

“We are confident that since this university will work in close conjunction with other universities in Saudi Arabia — especially leading universities such as King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah and King Saud University in Riyadh — it will raise the level of research and technology,” he said.

The interim president explained that the scholarship program is one part of a three-pronged strategy to build the university’s intellectual capital. A second KAUST initiative is its Global Research Partnership, a program that provides support for, and collaboration with, leading scientific research centers and individual scientists around the globe, along with research and educational collaboration with leading institutions.

So far, Al-Nasr said, KAUST has entered into formal partnerships with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Institut Francais du Petrole in France, the National University of Singapore, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IITB) and, most recently, the American University in Cairo.

The new university will be constructed at Thuwal on the Red Sea. Not far from Thuwal is Rabigh, site of an existing Saudi Aramco refinery, which is being transformed under a new joint venture with Sumitomo Chemical of Japan into a huge integrated petrochemical and refining facility.

Since KAUST is King Abdullah’s favorite project, Al-Nasr was asked if he could share his impressions of the king’s involvement in the project. Al-Nasr noted that King Abdullah has had the dream of this university for over 25 years.

“He is extremely happy and proud that his dream is finally taking shape,” Al-Nasr said. “His vision is to see KAUST drive the transformation of the Saudi economy into a knowledge economy. It may be easy for us to say we want to transform the economy into a knowledge economy. However, it is a long journey that a nation has to undertake.

The king believes that KAUST is the starting point of that transformation.” Asked whether KAUST would usher in an era of Muslim and Arab scientific renaissance, Al-Nasr said: “We hope — and so does the king — that KAUST will bring back to us as a nation, Arabs and Muslims, the great history of the Golden Age, when we led the world in science and technology. We believe we can do that… There is no reason why we can’t.”