Searching for KAUST: of salaries and future insights

Auriele Thiele loaded up an entry three days ago in her insightful blog (Thoughts on business, engineering and higher education) that reminded me how amazed I am when I see what search terms bring people to GlobalHigherEd.  As Auriele notes, people use a wide array of approaches to searching, primarily via Google, and not all of them make sense. This said something is happening, hence the traffic to our site. Google’s algorithms send people to us, though I have no idea how this formally works.

Now the search terms that people use are interesting in that they arguably identify key concerns, and emerging debates, in the world of global higher ed. “Global university rankings” is clearly an issue of concern, and while we do not have many entries on this theme, the hunger for material on this phenomenon is striking.

Another topic we get a lot of traffic on is KAUST (also known as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), pictured to the right in June 2008 (courtesy of KAUST). We’ve developed a few entries on the new knowledge spaces emerging in the Middle East, including KAUST in Saudi Arabia, as have other higher ed media outlets like the Chronicle, Insider Higher Ed, and the Times Higher.

Let’s unpack the nature of the KAUST search terms bringing traffic to us, though, for this is what is most fascinating.

Over time the terms have shifted from “KAUST”, and “King Abdullah University of Science and Technology”, to a significant concern with KAUST + salaries, and now, most recently, KAUST + criticism. I might be over interpreting things, but KAUST’s development strategy seems to have been an enormous success on a number of levels, with the recent KAUST-IBM supercomputer announcement but the latest release stirring up attention in the global higher ed world. In other words KAUST has become a presence before it has become a real university (in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia).

The contrast with places like Quest University – Canada’s first secular private university (and pictured to the left) – is breathtaking, for Quest’s backers, while well connected, have had to incrementally push their new initiative forward, maneuver through several funding-related twists in the development path, and be ultra-efficient and effective to survive. There is no King Colombie-Britannique to secure this new university’s existence.

Now, is the volume of searches regarding salaries at KAUST a worrisome indicator regarding the base priorities of academics who seem to be in search of mammon, much like Daniel Plainview in There Will be Blood (2007)?

Or is this a sign of the challenging reality of constructing new knowledge spaces that generate an impact, and fast. The corollary here is if Canada, or British Columbia, were as serious as the Saudis and the Singaporeans (e.g., see Singapore Management University) about diversifying the higher education system, they would have seriously endowed Quest University from Day 1 to propel it into action even though it is ‘private’.

A third view is that this a sign of what is needed to draw globally mobile faculty and staff to places like Saudi Arabia where rigid social rules cannot help but guide academic life, limits on freedoms (including freedom of female faculty to drive, or fly out of the country to conferences without first receiving the approval of their husbands) will exist, and machine guns will never be far from sight on the protective borders of the KAUST campus. As with the National University of Singapore (where KAUST’s current president, Shih Choon Fong, used to be based), high salaries are a recognized mechanism to tempt ‘quality’ faculty to become more mobile, and transplant, if only temporarily.

But I do wonder what the fixation with salaries will lead to, on the ground, when all of the faculty and some of their families start arriving and living in the Seahaven of Saudi Arabia.  These people will be surfing on top of the oil-fueled development boom, yet never far from the surface, including in the compound being built, a different reality will emerge; a more complex reality of happiness and/or angst about international schooling, relative salary positioning, social cleavages (on the basis of race, ethnicity, and pedigree), leave of absence strategizing (for the tenured), contract renewal uncertainties (for the untenured), transnational family strategizing (inevitably many will leave spouses and children back ‘home’), dual career challenges, competitive pressures to perform, gripes about the time it takes to fly back to city X or city Y, what to do on the one day off per week, the bubble effect, the maid (domestic help) dynamic, teenagers (not) running amok, and so on.

KAUST will continue thrusting ahead given that it is a defacto sovereign wealth fund, prospective faculty will continue sniffing around GlobalHigherEd for salary details (sorry, this is the wrong place to check!), and a new manufactured world will unfold over the next decade. Yet I hope some of the faculty and their families get active weblogs going from the land of KAUST, for we need far more than official representations to really understand what is needed to construct these type of knowledge spaces. It would be a shame if KAUST micro-managed the production of reflective insights on the development process, for this is an experiment worth not only promoting (as they clearly must do), but also rigorously analyzing.

And at another level, is it not time for agencies like the ESF and the NSF to get more strategic, and bring together research teams, to assess the KAUST development process? The pace of change is too fast with respect to this type of initiative – more of a global assemblage than a national university – to merely stand by and wait for proposals from faculty.  The cranes are up, but not for much longer…

Kris Olds

28 thoughts on “Searching for KAUST: of salaries and future insights

  1. Great post! Creating a leading university from scratch offers fascinating challenges. I’m looking forward to learning more about KAUST as the opening date nears.

    The main difference between Canada and Saudi Arabia, I believe, is that the Saudis are using the project to show the world that their country should be regarded as a global player, and a heavyweight at that. This is about much more than just higher education.

    Canada is already taken seriously as a nation (or un-seriously, if you’re American :0) ). As a result, it doesn’t care as much about using higher ed as an upward mobility tool for the country as a whole – at least for the country’s prestige.

    This being said, Canada has a number of policies to attract top researchers, such as easily granting permanent residence permits to holders of PhD degrees from top American institutions, while the US are more reluctant to speed up the Green-Card-granting process for political reasons.

    I would love to learn more about KAUST’s recruiting process. Ideally, a university would have professors at various stages in their career. Leading universities in the United States graduate too many top candidates for the number of positions available at Tier 1 universities. Good tenure-track professors sometimes don’t get tenured.

    Recruiting people in the middle of their career usually works best when qualified researchers are identified beforehand and then encouraged to apply. (Some academics like to be wanted.) Who at KAUST would have that knowledge? Is KAUST actively targeting specific people, or just hoping good people will come if the package is attractive enough? If so, that shows a very naive understanding of the recruiting process.

    And thanks, of course, for the mention of my blog.

  2. Thank you, Kris, for recognizing Quest University Canada’s struggle to establish a presence in global higher education, in contrast to the apparent ease with which oil wealth can found a new institution. While we hope that British Columbia would like to diversify its universities, and that Quest will make some small difference here by emphasizing intimate (and consequently expensive) undergraduate teaching, we also recognize the traditional Canadian preference for publicly funded higher education, and the legal barriers that separate the public from the private. These hindrances have kept the Province from providing us with financial assistance. Over time, however, we hope that the genuine public good of private, not-for-profit institutions will be recognized in Canada, and supported by the public. In fact, British Columbia already funds private high schools, similar to charter high schools in the US. Canadians probably share the American ideal of upward mobility based on education, but, like the Americans, they might also have been sold the idea that research universities are the only way to make a real mark in today’s education cosmos. I don’t think that research universities always serve undergraduates well, and Quest is a small-scale attempt to prove our point in Canada.

    Perhaps the most telling difference between KAUST and Quest, besides the vowel shift, is a semantic shift between a university dedicated to the “liberal arts and sciences” and one devoted to “science and technology.” As Amelie rightly notes in her comment, the aspect of “freedom” looms large here. As a humanist, I probably have to concede that applied science and technology are the dominant knowledge paradigms of our day; that is, they are surely more easily recognized as “advances” and as contributions to “progress” than the reading of a poem. Any economist can show you the link between capital and applied science. Any humanist will point out how that link translates to salary differentials. But science can also be pursued as a liberal art, rather than a practical one. At Quest, we have built an undergraduate program that requires a liberal–i.e., “free”–approach to science, one that is integrated into an overarching understanding of human values and social institutions. It’s harder to buy such an understanding with money than it is to build a lab, but let’s be serious–a large endowment would certainly help support a good faculty and also buy a well-equipped lab, both of which we need.

    Even so, the strength of North American innovation lies in the spontaneity that freedom supports. Perhaps the Saudis will have the forbearance to endow their university, and then to sit back and give it the autonomy without which genuine inquiry does not flourish. Very wealthy private donors, Saudi or otherwise, can find the requisite indulgence irksome. Public financing of education likewise has trouble letting universities simply do their thing. The hard part, it seems to me, is setting up a university so that the faculty are free (in the liberal sense of “not tied to making money”) and yet also devoted to a regulatory, shared principle of Truth or Knowledge.

    I would be curious to know if Kris and Amelie think that KAUST is making us face the real culture clash: Is there really something superior in the freedom of inquiry that Western civilization has cultivated over many centuries? The freedom of our political and social institutions, and consequently also of our universities, has roots that go deep into the religious and philosophical traditions of the West. We might like to think that global higher education can only make real progress if it follows this Western model, but I honestly do not know how to answer the question, especially for those outside that tradition. I am quite sure, however, that to the extent that science and technology can be bought with money, the Saudis have the upper hand, and can confidently answer the question negatively.

  3. I thought about this post yesterday, when I received a job advertisement for KAUST through one of the e-mailing lists I subscribe to. It seems that KAUST has an agreement with Stanford, which is called an Academic Excellence Alliance, to help with the hiring decisions in 2008 and 2009 – faculty members in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science hired before KAUST opens in September 2009 will even be hosted as Visiting Fellows at Stanford, although the announcement is very clear KAUST is doing the hiring, not Stanford. People applying for Assistant Professor positions will need 3 recommendation letters, and then 6 if they apply at the Associate Professor level and 9 at the Full Professor level. I was glad to see that the KAUST people had put some thought into the hiring process, but I’m curious to see who is going to answer the ad. The KAUST administration probably needs a high-profile hire it can advertise to signal it is serious about all this.

    Regarding the previous comment by James Cohn – I’d like to believe in the superiority of the Western model (free speech should strengthen students’ reasoning skills, for instance, as they are not afraid of saying the wrong thing), but the Soviet Union is an excellent example of (former) country with a high-quality program in mathematics and science that restricted some of its citizens’ freedoms. Of course, in the Soviet Union, math and science were viewed as prestigious topics that attracted the best students – it is not clear whether KAUST’s presence will create such an attitude in Saudi Arabia. I’ll be following the KAUST news story with interest.

  4. The contrast between Quest and KAUST is interesting, because both of them are serving the needs of their societies.
    They both have the solution to each other’s problems, but they won’t go there.

    The middle east has a well developed religious architecture for society, but their scientific and technical apparatus is … still nascent. Some institutions exist, and more importantly people exist who have technical knowledge in their heads, but that is all. There is no comparison with what the Middle East has, and what any Western society does when it comes to science.
    Predictably, that is what their universities are concentrating on.

    The West has a well developed technical and scientific establishment, but religion is meant to be small-scale and personal here. Genuinely moral and conscientious individuals exists over here, but that is not the same as having the whole society organized in a manner to encourage that behaviour. So that is what BCs newest university aims to do.

    They could solve each others problems, if they wanted to.

  5. I think it is very wise step towards towards the getting light of knowledge. I pray for Saudi Govt that it will make more institutes such like KAUST. it will most beautiful University when complete. KAUST will fulfill the dreams of a student who wants to learn. May Allah bless on King AbdAllah who Made such plan.

    I hope the my coming generation will take admission in this irrisistable and amazing university.


  6. I have had very well intentioned and involved interactions with KAUST, including their Global Research Partnerships and the fellowships. I now have no doubt that this is yet another waste of huge financial resources that the population of this developing country badly needs. Saudi Arabia’s GDP is $20,000. This is not a rich country, they have an illiteracy problem, human rights problems, no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech, a huge economical chasim between the rich and the severely poor. They are better off building their economy from the bottom up, i.e. better educating their population at the elementary, secondary, and college level. Such developments will naturally lead to well earned freedoms that will enable world class Graduate research institutions. This is a mislead and out of touch effort by elite ARAMCO officials and intellectuals. This maybe salvaged by adding a few Economists to their team, preferrably economists from developing countries such as India, Turkey, Malaysia and Singapore.

  7. Hi,
    About the salary at KAUST, it is not too much. One of my friends got an offer for them and the total comes to around $100k + housing. Granted it is tax free, but this is what the silicon valley gives to an engineering PhD.

  8. I have applied to KAUST. Salary is a big motivator, but us young academics are also lured by the freedom to do research apart from the funding hassles.

  9. Hi Engineering Student,
    Can you give more details, whether the position was a beginning or a senior hire. 100K is a pretty sweet deal for a fresh faculty, in the US they pay you around 80k anually: Provided you get summer funding. Not to mention that Saudi arabia is tax free.

  10. I wonder if any body can say some thing about how to apply at KAUST every time i click on the continue button it just says website relocated.

  11. I would like to know what salaries and benefits are offered by KAUST to their IT staff such as ERP / SAP Consultants.A ppreciate if some one could send his inputs.

  12. I received a job offer from KAUST with good salary package etc but the designation was different and unfamiliar … not the one I applied and was interviewed for? Is this only me or happened with any one else as well?

  13. I have received an offer from KAUST for assistant professor (Engineering), it’s not that bad given it’s tax free. The salary was my motivator to go there, after all what will make someone with a PhD from one of the top 5 US engineering school to go to Saudi Arabia ? For a NON-TENURE (as all positions) track position! to a country that lacks all kinds of liberties. I should note that I have received an offer from one of the top 30 engineering schools here (hint : in California) for a tenure-track ($95K for 9 months), compare this to $130K+ tax free in KAUST. I will go there for 3-4 years and then come back to the U.S., apply again for a tenure-track and settle down. What I will save in Saudi Arabia in 4 years can buy me a house here, OUTRIGHT. Remember KAUST benefits are all inclusive, from housing to utilities to transportation to medical/dental/vision/all (100% no co-payments), the only thing you have to pay for there is cutting your hair :)

    For those going there to Thuwal, see you there this August!

  14. Thanks “Engineering Faculty” for your post, I (almost) fully agree, I’m not sure this will benefit Saudi Arabia in the long run …

  15. I think Sam is the only honest one here, why the hell will anybody go to Saudi Arabia except for the money.

    But Sam you better not forget that it is going to be damn hard for you to get a tenure-track after 4 years in SA.

  16. Can anyone who has gone through KAUST’s hiring process share their experience? As in, what is their time-line, how quickly they reply, type of interviews, etc.

    I applied for 6 jobs, the rejection for one came within a day. I’m still waiting for their response on the remaining 5 which include Information Technology and Core Lab Research jobs.


  17. Same here. I received rejection messages within two days. So I am hoping that I am still in for the other one that I haven’t received rejection yet.

    I would like to know though what the salary range would be for managerial position. Anyone has any idea?

  18. Application with kaust takes months so if your in a hurry get a job and wait for this application to slowly simmer … the attitude there is that they can wait …!

  19. Just to let you know I applied for 6 posts, all in the lab research & havent yet received a single reply or rejection. I am already earning 100k$ plus in the uk & very well set in the european semiconductor industry since mid ’90’s. Im still in my mid 30’s If they have to get me i am looking at 150k+. Being a muslim It is easier for me to live out there with my family & afterall It isnt a bad place or far from Jeddah etc so life will be good there.

  20. Just to Add for the benefit of the rest who have applied for managerial admin roles. If there is an offer of less than 100k$ its probably not worth considering. I know that Kaust will hire a lot of staff from southeast asia for cheap money as there is a surplus of skill & willingness to adapt. Lets hope this notion of education hits other parts of MEast, or even other parts of Saudi arabia.

  21. Hi All

    I have applied for Documentum position at Kaust in June. Its being already 3 month no reply not even a rejection reply. Just curious how long it takes. I’m also well settle in US but would like to try saudi.. kaust looks good but don’t know how there package looks like.

    If anybody have any inside pls let ev1 knows


  22. Hi All:

    Can anyone share the hiring process ?
    Do they ask you to appear for personal interview in Saudia ?
    How many interviews do they conduct ?
    e.g HR interview, Technical Interview , presentation for faculty ? etc


  23. Hi,

    I am a Certified Sr SAP HR Consultant currently working in US on H1 B. I am on full time position and I get in hand 4800-5000 USD per month.( 80k per annum )

    Could any one tell me coming to Saudi Arabia would be a good idea or not and also what salary I can expect from KAUST.

    I am ( ECE ) and MBA ( HR ) and have more than 6 years in SAP HR.


  24. hi divya,

    Do not think you will be drawing more than the present? The only benefit would be from tax.

  25. I am an Indian Muslim. I have applied for secretarial post in KAUST. Can any body tell me about the salary range and other facilities. Hope, East Asian people are not treated with bias.

  26. I am interested in employment with Kaust but I have no luck thus far after a year. Would love to hear some insight about the employment process

  27. I have applied for a faculty position at KAUST and I have received an email to confirm that I have been shortlisted.

    I would like please to know how long it takes to the interview? Are interviews conducted on-site or somewhere else? etc.

    Thank you.

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