Here is an opportunity for Saudi students and parents to interact directly with foreign universities and educational institutions, said Education Minister Dr Azzam Al-Dakhil on Wednesday. The minister was speaking after inaugurating the International Exhibition and Conference on Higher Education (IECHE 2015) in the capital. The four-day event will be open for visitors from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Saturday. On Friday, it will be open from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. A series of lectures, presentations and workshops will be organized on the sidelines of the IECHE at the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Center during the next four days. Al-Dakhil said that the exhibition, organized by the ministry of education, is aimed “at boosting the nationalization of work force and promoting education for sustainable development.” More than 400 universities and academic institutions from different countries, including the US and Europe, are participating. Referring to the world-class educational infrastructure of the Kingdom, Al-Dakhil said that the country’s 28 universities are currently offering more than 4,000 programs and courses for undergraduate and graduate students. Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice chancellor of Cambridge, said: “Moreover, the Kingdom has had collaboration with different universities including the University of Cambridge.” Borysiewicz, who delivered his keynote address after the welcome speech given by Al-Dakhil, said that “the University of Cambridge has had well-established collaboration with Saudi institutions in engineering.” Plans are afoot to expand collaboration with the Kingdom in other fields including manufacturing, he added. The inaugural ceremony was attended by a large number of Saudi officials, diplomats, educationists and students. US Ambassador Joseph W. Westphal, whose country is represented by a huge contingent of about 100 universities and institutions, was also present.
Canada is the second favorite destination after the US for Saudi students who are pursuing their higher studies abroad. Canadian Ambassador Thomas MacDonald was speaking to Arab News at a dinner reception hosted in honor of the visiting delegates of the International Exhibition and Conference on Higher Education (IECHE) at his official residence. The envoy said that this year, 18 Canadian universities and seven colleges are participating in the IECHE for the fifth consecutive year. The Saudi student population in Canada includes 1,000 students who are reading for medical degrees. Besides these students reading in universities and colleges in Canada, Niagara College and Algonquin College in Ottawa have recently opened their branch institutions in Taif and Jazan respectively. He explained that the Niagara College which has 300 Saudi students on roll has geared its curriculum for hospitality trade, while the other college in Jazan is providing training in vocation education. The college in Jazan is solely concentrating on training students for vocational education. “Various skills to suit the needs and aptitudes of the youth are taught in this college,” the envoy said, pointing out that trainees who pass out from these colleges easily find jobs in the local market. He pointed out that the number of students going to Canada has increased by leaps and bounds during the past 10 years because of its quality education and also Canada has an environment which could be adapted easily by foreign students. “We are happy that the Saudi government has reposed its confidence in us to educate their youth population,” the ambassador said, adding that its a responsible task and Canada will justify the confidence reposed in its government. Referring to the IECHE, the ambassador said: “Over the past four years, this event has successfully grown to become an important forum allowing students from Saudi Arabia to learn about the tremendous opportunities for post-secondary education from leading international education institutions.” MacDonald said that Canada offers quality education in all its 10 provinces and three territories. It has a safe and friendly environment and affordable tuition fees. “International students in Canada have access to academic programs, which allows them to gain valuable work experience through work placement and cooperative education, and the most sophisticated and state-of-the-art technologies and facilities,” he said. In 2012, five Canadian universities were ranked among the world’s top 100 universities. “I invite Saudi students to meet all the representatives from Canadian universities and colleges, and to discover how studying there will set you on the path to achieving your dreams and securing your future,” he added. On Saudi-Canada relations, MacDonald said: “We have a positive relationship in a wide range of fields, including the energy sector, where we’re both global leaders.” He added: “Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest oil reserves and Canada is number two or three in terms of oil reserves. We have a lot of common interest in energy security as we are both members of the G-20.” MacDonald said that the two countries were also collaborating in the security sector including counter-terrorism. “We share a lot of common views on regional issues.” In 2014, Canada hosted the first cohort of Saudi Globalink Research Interns, a program that sees top-ranked undergraduate applicants complete 12-week internships under the supervision of the science, engineering, math, humanities and social science faculties. Sean Kennedy, general manager of the Niagara College in Taif, said: “Our students succeed because we have the best programs, delivered by the top professors on one of the most beautiful campuses in North America. We support our students to succeed academically and professionally.” He added: “We are now in Taif with a national center of excellence in tourism, hospitality and business innovation in cooperation with Colleges of Excellence based on our Canadian success.” Kennedy said that Niagara College is fully-funded tuition through Technical Vocational Training Corporation(TVTC) for all eligible Saudi nationals and also include generous monthly stipends for all eligible Saudi nationals “World-class training delivered in Taif by the top Canadian business, hospitality and tourism college and exciting employment opportunities in top Saudi companies after graduation.” Kennedy, who is also the vice president of the Niagara College in Ontario, explained that it is a diploma course for a duration of three years which would include subjects such a hotel management, guest relations, teaching of culinary skills, business management and event management. He also said that the college hopes to enrol 300 students every year.
The Ministry of Education is offering overseas scholarships to enterprising students who excel in research and innovation.
Students would be able to study abroad and visit various top institutions to promote their work, according to a statement issued by King Abdulaziz University ahead of its research conference from March 30 to April 2.
The university would publish and use the research, the statement said. More than 5,000 students from 42 Saudi universities are expected to take part in the event.
The university said that in the past several students who had won prizes were sent abroad on scholarships to study at reputable universities. They had also taken part in international conferences and visited major research centers in China, Japan and Singapore. Several had attended specialized training courses inside and outside the Kingdom.
The university said it would link students with businesspeople so that their ideas are transformed into commercially viable products.
The ministry has been organizing student conferences for the past six years to highlight outstanding student research and inventions, and to encourage them to participate in international scientific competitions.
The conference will have four sessions. They are innovation and business pioneering, human and social sciences, basic and engineering sciences, and health sciences. Activities on the sidelines include the screening of documentary films and cultural and artistic exhibitions.
MH Alshaya Co, the Kuwait-based international retail franchise operator, and the Princess Nora Bint Abdul Rahman University in Riyadh have signed an agreement to try to increase the number of Saudi women in the retail sector.
The memorandum of understanding aims to build a strategic partnership and further develop Alshaya's Retail Academy, with the aim of ensuring that more Saudi women are trained in retail skills and employed in the sector.
The new partnership covers three main areas - training, recruitment, and investment - to enhance the skills of Saudi women and improve their career prospects.
The agreement will see Alshaya relocate its Retail Academy from its current location in Riyadh to the campus of Princess Nora Bint AbdulRahman University, a statement said.
The partnership will allow the Alshaya Retail Academy to expand the scope of its operations, both increasing the number of trainees it can accept and giving students of the University access to additional modules in practical retail skills, such as customer service, communication and sales.
The statement said the relocation will not affect the Academy's existing eligibility requirements, which require that prospective trainees simply have a high school certificate.
"It's a great opportunity for our female students to receive specialised retail training from Alshaya, which is a leading retail company," said Dr Al-Ameel.
"We are delighted that we will create better access to training and recruitment in the retail sector, right here from our campus in Riyadh. This is just the first step in our partnership, and we hope we will build on it the near future."
Alshaya will also operate a recruitment office on campus to help female students have better access to employment opportunities at Alshaya.
With over 600 stores and 40 international brands in Saudi Arabia, Alshaya said it can offer Saudi women a range of career opportunities in retail, which is one of the fastest-growing industries in the kingdom.
Alshaya said his company was committed to training Saudi women and developing their skills.
"Princess Nora Bint AbdulRahman University shares our vision of helping women contribute to the growth of the economy in Saudi Arabia. This partnership will help us support more Saudi women, to provide them with much-needed retail skills, and offer them access to careers that will fulfill their future ambitions."
The Alshaya Retail Academy was established in Riyadh in December 2012 in partnership with the Ministry of Labour's Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF).
From a zero base in 2012, Alshaya now employs more than 1,600 women across its business in the Gulf kingdom.
The president of Saudi Arabia’s flagship graduate research university has rejected calls for him to condemn restrictions on freedom of speech in the country.
Jean-Lou Chameau, the president of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, told Times Higher Education that universities had to reflect the societies within which they existed, and that the greatest long-term impact would be achieved by instilling the values of openness and creativity in a generation of graduates.
The former president of the California Institute of Technology was speaking amid continuing international outcry about the imprisonment and public flogging of Raif Badawi, a blogger who criticised Saudi Arabia’s clerics.
In January, 18 Nobel laureates wrote to Professor Chameau, calling for “influential voices” in KAUST to be “heard arguing for the freedom to dissent, without which no institution of higher learning can be viable”.
Some have interpreted the letter, which counted South African novelist J. M. Coetzee among its signatories, as a warning that KAUST could be marginalised by international scholars unless it does more to further freedom of speech.
Development and education But Professor Chameau said that he had never used his position as a higher education leader to speak out about “political issues”.
“I believe we have to remain focused on developing the university science programme and on educating young people in an environment that is open, diverse and creative,” Professor Chameau said. “It is always easy to criticise organisations or universities, but we have to remember that different parts of the world work in different ways.
“Universities operate in different parts of the world. We have to reflect that we are in a different place; we have to be respectful of others.”
KAUST could have a positive effect in other ways, Professor Chameau continued.
“We have great students with great values,” he said. “They graduate, go out and do great things, and that’s where we have impact.”
Openness and diversity are enshrined in KAUST’s royal charter, established by the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, he pointed out.
Researchers are free to publish and discuss their work “as they want”, Professor Chameau said, and KAUST is unique in the country in allowing women to be educated alongside men. On campus, women are not required to wear a veil and are allowed to drive.
Some observers question whether the accession of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, after the death earlier this year of King Abdullah, will lead to the implementation of more conservative education policies, or the curtailment of the scholarship programme that has allowed thousands of young Saudis to study at overseas universities.
Professor Chameau said that he had seen “no sign” of any change in government policy and added that he was proud that 35 per cent of KAUST’s students were women. Having a diverse student body, he said, is “part of the DNA of KAUST”.
One thing that seems certain to remain unchanged, however, is the weight of expectation attached to the university.
When King Abdullah founded KAUST, he gave it a $10 billion (£6.4 billion) endowment, with the aim of rekindling science in the Arab world and building a knowledge-based economy in Saudi Arabia.
Having recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, the institution now has some 840 students, 132 academic staff and 401 postdoctoral researchers.
Professor Chameau said he was “extremely pleased” with the calibre of the staff that KAUST was attracting, and said that the fruits of this recruitment were beginning to be witnessed, with more than 4,000 publications having been notched up already.
The university has created 32 spin-off companies, and its researchers are starting to achieve major scientific advances – in desalination, and in the use of the mineral perovskite in solar cells, for example.
Holding fire on target However, Professor Chameau declined to reiterate the target set under his predecessor, Choon Fong Shih, for KAUST to be one of the world’s top 10 science and technology universities by 2020.
Professor Shih himself had admitted that this would “hopefully” be the position, rather than “definitely”, before he stepped down in 2013.
“Whatever was said at the time, becoming a destination university, an Imperial College London or a Stanford, doesn’t happen overnight,” Professor Chameau said. “It is based on many years, sometimes decades, of great accomplishments, and what your graduates do. You become great when your graduates go into the world and do great things elsewhere.”
KAUST has faced criticism for not educating more Saudis, with one princess branding it a “disaster”. Currently, about 35 per cent of its students are Saudi, and the figure for staff is similar.
But Professor Chameau said that KAUST was not allowed to exceed 50 per cent Saudi in its student body, in order to provide an international experience. The proportion is likely to grow towards that limit in the coming years, he added.
This is one reason why, when asked if KAUST would launch an undergraduate programme, Professor Chameau replied that this might happen “some day”, but not “right now”. An undergraduate programme would serve mainly the local population and would make KAUST less international than it is now, he explained.