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November 2007
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Saudi Arabia Launches Research University
By Sameen Ahmed Khan


King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, on 21 October 2007 hosted the ground breaking ceremony for a world-class, graduate-level science and technology university in Saudi Arabia, in presence of 1500 dignitaries from around the world. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is being built as an international, graduate-level research university dedicated to inspiring a new age of scientific achievement in the Kingdom that will also benefit the region and the world. Underlining the groundbreaking celebration, KAUST hosted a special academic symposium titled The Role of the Research University in the 21st Century, drawing on many of the most influential scholars and academic administrators from around the world. With a ten billion US$ endowment, KAUST is among the richest universities in the world. KAUST is the brainchild of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. He is also providing three billion US$ to build a campus and a university town on the Red Sea at Thuwal (near Rabigh, about 170km north-west of Mecca and 80km north of Jeddah). The university, a residential and commercial center, and a research park will all be constructed over an area of 3,200 acres. The campus will also be constructed for low environmental impact, with an emphasis on energy efficiency, sustainable development, and conservation of historical/cultural sites and sensitive ecosystems.


From the very inception KAUST is being set up with a radically different approach. It will not be organized around traditional academic departments, but around interdisciplinary research institutes. It is not being built on an undergraduate core, but rather is exclusively focused on PhD and Masterís education. As an independent, merit-based institution, KAUST is adopting many of the best practices from leading research universities and enable top researchers from around the globe and across all cultures to work together to solve challenging scientific and technological issues. The new university will be merit based, open to men and women students and researchers from around the world, chosen only on the basis of academic qualification.


KAUST will provide leading researchers - both faculty and students - with the resources they need to do their best work and pursue their professional goals: cutting-edge tools and an environment uniquely free of administrative barriers that can inhibit innovation and discovery. It is expected to attract the best minds - based strictly on merit - and create a collaborative community of passionate and talented researchers from around the world. KAUSTís academic philosophy is to encourage collaboration and collegial relationships that can spawn innovation and invention. This goal initially will be advanced by funding collaborative research centers - university based, multiple investigators, with private sector participation; individual university based researchers; and postdoctoral fellows. Additional types of partnerships may be developed in the future. KAUST has already launched its scholarship program. Recruitment for qualified students is now underway around the world. The KAUST Discovery Scholarship is the general scholarship program. This program is designed to ensure that any highly talented student who is qualified and eligible to enroll in KAUST will receive full financial support while at the University. The KAUST Discovery Scholarship will provide full tuition, a living stipend, book and computer allowances, and summer and career enrichment programs to qualified science and technology students at their home institutions prior to the Universityís opening in September 2009. Upon graduation, these students will enter KAUST as masterís degree students in September 2009 and 2010 and complete their studies on a fully funded scholarship. KAUST will offer Discovery Scholarships to all KAUST students - an exceptional level of support intended to attract gifted and talented students from Saudi Arabia and from other countries around the world.


KAUST is a sure sign that Saudi Arabia wants to participate in the international community of research universities.


The KAUST website, http://www.kaust.edu.sa/ provides further information about its hefty scholarships and ample opportunities for collaborative programmes.


(The writer can be reached at rohelakhan@yahoo.com)