Friday, May 08, 2009

A KAUSTian bargain

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has provided the country's new university, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), with an $11 billion campus and a $20 billion dollar endowment -- rivaled only by Harvard and Yale.

But that would be a waste if it was organized like other universities in the country. The plan is it won't be. It will be run like the famously efficient oil ministry -- because it will be overseen by the oil ministry.
To make his vision a reality, the king appointed his minister of oil, Ali Ibrahim Al-Naimi to lead the project. That decision was controversial because the obvious choice would have been the minister of education Faisal bin Abdullah bin Muhammad. The problem with turning the king's vision over to the Ministry of Education, however, was that that ministry is accustomed to enforcing Saudi Arabian law on its existing university campuses, and the enforcement of those laws on the new campus would surely have limited international engagement. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive, they are required to wear the traditional abaya, a flowing black cloak that must be worn at all times in public, and they are strictly forbidden to be accompanied by any man who is not their immediate relative.

Such restrictions on women would surely have limited the new university's ability to attract foreign students and faculty. When I was in graduate school at Harvard, I worked alongside Phd students from Israel, Poland, China, the Netherlands, Italy, South Africa, England, Singapore, Turkey, Germany, and so on. In addition, I took classes from professors of similarly varied origins. That pattern is not unique to Harvard; the world's great universities are remarkably diverse places. Therefore, the Saudis reasoned that for their new university to produce great scholarship, innovation, and entrepreneurship, it would need to attract the best and brightest from around the world; but doing that meant that they would have to be flexible with many of their customs.
Read it all at The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

From what I understand, it's not just that the campus will be liberal. It's that the professionals will be allowed to run the place with a minimum of intervention. They'll be held accountable for the right things -- whether they create a first class institution of learning.


Anonymous Dubai Entrepreneur said...

His heart is in the right place. It won't work. In order for you to attract the best and brightest, you will have to offer more than a well-funded institute.

You have to offer freedom. And no, you can't quarantine the campus and its surrounding areas and call it a free zone either. You have to accept that providing the environment to exercise freedom will result in innovations and stupid things as well. It's part of the package.

I don't think the Saudi's are anywhere close to dealing with this. All the world's money won't help.

1:57 PM  
Blogger the real nick said...

SO the uni will be under more direct control of the king? Sounds more like a KAUSTian pact..

10:19 AM  

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