Saudi Arabia unveils co-ed ‘House of Wisdom’/Postcards from Saudi Arabia: The KAUST inauguration

Editor’s note: this entry (which consists of two parts, one brief survey of themes, and one informal series of ‘postcards’) was prepared by Dr. Kimberly Coulter on the basis of her visit to Jeddah and Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.  Dr. Coulter attended the opening of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and had a fascinating time engaging with KAUST officials (including President Choon Fong Shih), KAUST’s new students, and representatives of the international media.

KAUST is an example of an ambitious attempt to construct a new site of knowledge production, albeit one that is significantly deterritorialized given the globalized nature of the forms and quality of the epistemic communities being targeted, and the cultural-politics of Saudi Arabia. KAUST is thus a unique experiment in how to organize an institution to facilitate innovation in scientific knowledge production, a secure and efficient compound (hence Saudi Aramco‘s involvement), a defacto sovereign wealth fund, a demonstration effect for new approaches to higher education in Saudi Arabia, and many other things (depending on standpoint).  Regardless of standpoint, though, KAUST is an experiment worth watching, discussing, debating about, and learning from.

Dr. Coulter’s previous entry in GlobalHigherEd was ‘The NSF’s ‘cool’ project: a charrette assesses interdisciplinary graduate education, with surprising results‘. Many thanks to Kimberly for her effort in putting these two contributions together amidst the move from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. We would also like to thank KAUST and Rachelle Lacroix of Fleishman-Hillard for the invitation and assistance in enabling us to cover aspects of this key event.

9 October update: this article (‘In Saudi Arabia, a Campus Built as a ‘Beacon of Tolerance’ High-Tech University Draws the Ire of Hard-Line Clerics for Freedoms It Provides to Women‘) in the Washington Post does a decent job of summarizing the ongoing debate stirred up by the comments of Saad bin Nasser al-Shithri, a member of the Supreme Committee of Islamic Scholars, regarding KAUST.

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KAUSTtilesPart I: Saudi Arabia unveils co-ed ‘House of Wisdom’

In an atmosphere of spectacular fanfare and intense security, Saudi Arabia inaugurated its new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) on 23 September. The US$12.5 billion dollar university is a gated compound on the Red Sea coast in the province of Mecca, approximately 50 miles north of Jeddah.

As Saudi Arabia’s first and only co-educational university, KAUST relaxes the social taboo of gender mixing as it aims to catapult the Kingdom onto the international playing field of knowledge economies. For foreign universities, it represents an opportunity to be paid royally to share advice and curricula; for the adventurous early-career researcher, KAUST offers funding and opportunities unavailable anywhere else.

To execute his vision for a world-class research university, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud turned to Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil corporation. Aramco is experienced with research management, technology transfer, and attracting talented foreigners to extraterritorial compounds within the Kingdom. An all-star lineup of trustees, including former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, and international higher education advisors, including members of the Washington Advisory Group, provided advice on how to leverage the Kingdom’s resources to engage prestigious institutions and scientific minds abroad.

King Abdullah compares KAUST to the House of Wisdom, the great Baghdad research and education center of the Islamic Golden Age, situating the new university in the context of Islamic scientific achievement and regional welfare. Arab News stressed the House of Wisdom’s intercultural foundation:

Founded by the caliphs Harun Al-Rashid and his son Al-Ma’mun, Bait Al-Hikma or the House of Wisdom served as a library, research center and translation bureau in Baghdad from the 9th to 13th centuries. Acclaimed as an intellectual hub that highlighted the “Golden Age” of Islam by fostering nontraditional dialogue and alliances between those of different backgrounds, it attracted the likes of Jabir ibn Hayyan, Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khawarizmi and Badi Al-Zaman Ismail ibn Al-Razzaz Al-Jazari.

King Abdullah’s message: “as a new ‘House of Wisdom,’ the University shall be a beacon for peace, hope, and reconciliation and shall serve the people of the Kingdom and benefit all the peoples of the world in keeping with the teachings of the Holy Quran, which explains that God created mankind in order for us to come to know each other.”

KAUSTpressWhile the House of Wisdom scholars concerned themselves with topics from physics to philosophy, KAUST is not a comprehensive university. Rather, it concentrates on nine science and engineering areas expected to economically diversify Saudi Arabia (and Saudi Aramco) beyond oil. Its research may have practical applications such as water desalination, pollution remediation; the genetic engineering of more draught-tolerant plants, and the development of stable and cost-effective solar cells. At the inauguration day press conference, Ali Ibrahim Al-Naimi, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and Chairman of the KAUST Board of Trustees said, “Saudi Arabia aspires to export as much solar energy in the future as it exports oil now.”

Research breakthroughs and the transfer of these new technologies to regional companies are expected to lead to economic growth and high-paying jobs. President Choon Fong Shih likes to call KAUST “Stanford by the Sea.” “Intellectual property,” he told GlobalHigherEd, is “is not an issue”—all discoveries by KAUST researchers become the property of KAUST. For international partnerships, agreements have been made to share intellectual property rights.

International partnerships

Thanks to a phenomenal endowment (waqf) exceeding US$10 billion, KAUST has succeeded in enlisting prestigious partners. Regardless of whether or not these initial collaboration agreements grow into durable long-term partnerships, KAUST’s campaign to attract international partners is, as Robert A. Jones observes, “remarkable for its subtle understanding of how high-level science research proceeds.”

All KAUST research is to be incubated in the context of international partnerships. KAUST’s Academic Excellence Alliance program provides roughly $25 million to foreign universities (Berkeley, Cambridge, Stanford, University of Texas at Austin, and Imperial College London) to advise KAUST on hiring and curricula. In addition to supporting researchers based on its campus, KAUST also provides generous grants to researchers abroad, with expectations of collaboration and participation in researcher and student exchanges with KAUST. Its Global Research Partnership grants of up to $25 million over five years will support to centers at Cornell, Oxford, Stanford, and Texas A&M, and three other “centers-in-development.” KAUST also funds individual investigators’ research projects with grants of $10 million each. These professors will be expected to visit KAUST each year for three weeks to three months.

In addition to linking its external grants to researcher exchange, KAUST also uses scholarships to develop human capital for the region. This semester, 374 men and women begin their graduate work; another 443 will join in 2010. Only 15% are Saudi, but many others have ties to the Middle East. While the Kingdom has long sent talented Saudi students abroad to study, it can now attract foreign students as well, a long-term investment expected to yield a global network of industry and government leaders with ties to Saudi Arabia. It is a strategy similar to the U.S. Fulbright Program and more extensively employed by organizations such as the German Academic Exchange Service.

KAUSTlibraryRecruiting talented students and faculty

KAUST counts on exciting research opportunities and first-rate infrastructure to lure researchers. President Shih told GlobalHigherEd that KAUST is “not looking for a typical academic, but for someone who wants to do something big.” He wants intellectually and culturally adventurous “faculty who want to make a contribution to this part of the world, who want to learn something about this culture.” KAUST has successfully recruited many Middle Easterners based outside the region. How long KAUST will be able to retain faculty within its compound is another question.

KAUST has much to offer the research-focused. It boasts state-of-the-art facilities; “Shaheen,” the world’s 14th fastest supercomputer; and CORNEA, a 3-D “cave” that allows footie- and 3D-goggle-clad visualization researchers to walk inside models of spatial and acoustical environments, such as those underground. Although most of its holdings have yet to arrive, KAUST’s library will soon provide access to 2,000 journals and 10 online databases, interlibrary loan services, and a wide selection of general interest books. KAUST offers faculty competitive salaries (estimated at 1.5 to 2 times US salaries, tax-free, plus many benefits), and—perhaps more importantly—generous multi-year research grants.

Students were recruited from their undergraduate institutions through the Institute of International Education (IIE), on the board of which KAUST advisor Karen Holbrook, also part of the Washington Advisory Group, serves. The KAUST Discovery Scholarship provides all students with paid housing, travel, and generous stipends. It was not only research and funding that attracted many to KAUST, but also the chance to study in an internationally rich context. Students reported activities including camel rides, regional excursions, and exercises to explore cultural differences in communication styles. Michelle Gatz, who graduated from UW-Madison’s mechanical engineering program in 2009, was recruited to do graduate work at KAUST. Gesturing with hands beautifully hennaed from a recent trip to Bahrain, Gatz exudes enthusiasm not only for the scientific opportunities she has at KAUST, but also the cultural ones. She is learning about Islam and Saudi Arabia, and meeting people from around the world. “Everyone here,” she said, “has been so nice.”

Together with KAUST staff, students and faculty form a small city with residents from 70 countries. A city, President Shih says, “with rich and diverse DNA.” Asked how KAUST’s diverse human resources will be engaged to promote understanding around issues of culture and gender, President Shih said he prefers to focus on KAUST’s exciting scientific challenges and how science brings people together: only “when there is nothing exciting, then we focus on differences.”

Culture and gender issues

Many observers are excited about the opening of Saudi Arabia’s first university that allows men and women to interact directly. All other Saudi universities are single-sex; when women are taught by male professors, contact is technologically mediated. A coeducational foundation was undeniably necessary for KAUST to engage prestigious foreign partners and compete for talent internationally, yet some Saudi-based critics object to KAUST’s relaxation of this social taboo. Other critics simply doubt that Saudi Arabia’s students and staff, trained in a secondary education system that emphasizes learning by rote, will be prepared for the demands of a modern, world-class research university. How will the Western academic model transfer into Saudi Arabia’s restrictive social context?

It was difficult to find KAUST officials and staff willing to address such questions. When asked if KAUST had provided training to address gender issues, a female professor replied, “there was a program—they called it a cultural program. It included this. Students had many questions about this.” KAUST divides the responsibility for student advising between a research advisor and an academic advisor who could address issues—including cultural ones—related to degree completion. If KAUST’s model of divided responsibility is not an effort to reduce research supervisor’ workload, but is rather an effort to broaden the network of senior advisors on whom early-career researchers rely, it could be a successful new model—perhaps one from which the West can learn.

Will KAUST be able to attract the most promising women scientists? At the press conference, Dr. Jasmeen Merzaban, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at KAUST said, “For me coming to Saudi Arabia has been an amazing experience.” She said she has encountered no barriers, in that research is “all based on science.” Her colleague Dr. Niveen M. Khashab, Assistant Professor of Chemical Science and Environmental Science and Engineering, cited the level of infrastructure and interest at the biggest attraction—KAUST has “everything that any assistant professor, regardless of gender, would look for.” She explained, “he—he or she—would look for interest in the research, funding, and just being in a successful environment.” Al-Naimi, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and Chairman of the KAUST Board of Trustees, implored the press to “focus on the great minds, rather than gender, please. Thank you.”

Clearly, KAUST’s architects have given careful attention to issues of culture and gender awareness within the university compound. Officials’ resistance to discussing these efforts publicly suggests the seriousness of the social pressure KAUST faces in Saudi Arabia, and attests to the extreme care being taken to safeguard this audacious scientific—and social—experiment.

Advancing Saudia Arabia, and the world

Already, KAUST is a remarkable achievement. It gives the striking impression that, in Saudi Arabia, anything is possible. One of the most important legacies of the House of Wisdom, as Jonathan Lyons explains in his new book, is “the notion that religion and science, faith and reason, could coexist.” KAUST aims to reflect this legacy for the advancement of Saudi Arabia and the world, making the region a hub for sustainable technologies and demonstrating the value of intercultural collaboration.

But it is also clear how strongly the KAUST vision is linked to King Abdullah. The King is 85 years old, and Saudi succession is uncertain. Ultimately KAUST’s success may depend on its ability to strike the right balance between protective control and open inquiry. Tangible technological and economic outcomes will be important in stirring the pride of the Saudi population as they turn to developing their rich human resources.

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Part II: Postcards from Saudi Arabia: The KAUST inauguration

Public photography was legalized in Saudi Arabia in 2006 by a royal decree, hailed as a step towards promoting tourism.

In spite of this, few tourists visit the Kingdom. Getting a visa is difficult, and most visitors are religious pilgrims, migrant workers, and foreigners who have family or business there. Yet some 2500 heads of state, business leaders, university officials, researchers, and prospective KAUST job candidates—and nearly 100 members of the media—poured into Jeddah last week for the KAUST inauguration.

Many of us looked for postcards to send to our friends and families, but there were none to be found! So for those interested in more informal impressions of the experience, I post a few here.

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Shopping malls are an important hub for public recreation in Saudi Arabia. Though in many “public” places, like at this Starbucks, there are semi-private areas for women and families. Some journalists and I visited this Jeddah mall to find gifts for our families. One colleague bought his daughter a Barbie-like doll. There were two categories to choose from: “indoor fashion” and “outdoor fashion” dolls.

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KAUST arranged a tour to the Altayebat International City for Sciences and Knowledge, where the knowledgeable staff explained their impressive collections of regional art and artifacts. This architectural engineer designed some amazing exhibitions of Saudi Arabia’s natural regions and heritage. While enjoying the air conditioning, I was completely surrounded the sand, water, wildlife, culture, and sky of the Red Sea! KAUST CORNEA 3-D visualization team–you guys should check this out!

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As the KAUST campus cannot yet support big groups of visitors, we stayed in Jeddah hotels and made the hour-long escorted bus trip each day. As we approached the campus, we passed giant billboards heralding KAUST, flags from around the world, multiple security checkpoints, and workers landscaping the roadside.

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The campus was stunning! The journalists would have liked to have toured more of it, but our access was restricted to a few buildings.

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The library has the most inspiring view of the Red Sea. Most of its holdings have not yet arrived, but it already had an impressive collection of general books. Works by Edward Said and Noam Chomsky were subtly displayed. The media spent many hours here drinking coffee while security was ensured for King Abdullah’s visit.

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Catching a ride back to Jeddah with a staff member, I managed to catch a glimpse of a finished condo, thoughtfully furnished with everything from Internet access to frying pans—the cupboards were even stocked with food. We stopped to fill the tank–gas at KAUST would have cost 0.60 Saudi Arabian riyal/liter, except that it, too, was free.  (I calculated $0.61/gallon and realized—the riyal is pegged to the dollar at the liter/gallon ratio!)

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Guests filled a gigantic air-conditioned tent specially erected for the KAUST inauguration. Just as striking as the research exhibitions was the mix of guests: Saudi men in tailored white thobes, Western men in smart dark suits, Saudi women in abayas and hijab, Western women in colorful skirt suits or long evening gowns peeking out from underneath their abayas. The PR firm had suggested I wear a suit, but I felt more comfortable in my elegant borrowed abaya.

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Eight curvy plasma screens spanned the massive auditorium. The lights dimmed, and short film segments introduced KAUST’s mission, philosophy, and people. Each film chapter was introduced with a proverb. “Hearts filled with faith,” one read, “are the foundation of each vision and the source for all truth.” KAUST students, clustered in the back of the auditorium, whooped and applauded when their friends appeared on screen.

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Following speeches by KAUST officials and the Saudi Arabian national anthem, King Abdullah took the podium. In his speech, the King compared KAUST to the “House of Wisdom” and extolled the value of international collaboration in education and research.

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After King Abdullah’s address, the plasma screens parted and receded to reveal the Red Sea. Massive fireworks erupted over KAUST’s signature “Breakwater Beacon,” and were joined by dancing fountains (easily surpassing the Bellagio in Las Vegas). Beaming Saudis and world-weary foreign correspondents smiled at each other, pleased to be sharing this experience.

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Following the banquet, we waited for hours for our assigned buses back to Jeddah. University leaders and journalists lingered over Arabic sweets and cans of 7-up with Saudi Aramco and KAUST employees. I finally made it back to the hotel at 4 a.m., nearly 22 hours after the media security check began. The scrappier correspondents, on breaks from demanding Middle Eastern posts, had elbowed and cajoled their way onto earlier buses.

Kimberly Coulter

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Editor’s note: see below for a YouTube clip of the noted fireworks segment:


Finland’s Aalto University (est. 2010): institutionalizing interdisciplinary thinking for innovation in the knowledge economy

Yesterday’s Financial Times included an informative story (‘Merger with innovation at its heart‘) on the development process of Aalto University in Finland.  Aalto University is being created through the merger of three existing institutions – the Helsinki School of Economics, the University of Art and Design Helsinki and the Helsinki University of Technology – and will formally open in January 2010.

As the FT puts it:

Across the world, business people, creative types and technology geeks struggle to understand each other. Their education and training, even much of their work, is carried out in separ­ate silos, with exciting collaborations the exception rather than the rule.

Now Helsinki’s business school, art college and technology school have come up with a radical plan: a three-way merger to create what they claim will be a unique, integrated seedbed for innovation. The new institution, Aalto University, will offer joint courses later this year and will be open fully at the beginning of 2010 as the flagship project in a national shake-up of higher education.

The government, academics and Finland’s business community, which is strongly represented on Aalto’s board, are hoping to capitalise on the country’s record in industrial and product design and to create an internationally competitive, business-focused institution that takes inter-disciplinary working to an extreme not seen anywhere else in the world.

tuulateeri1The website for Aalto University (named after Alvar Aalto) suggests that the new university will have (based on aggregate statistics from 2007) 19,200 students (1,140 of them foreign) and 4,150 staff (53% in teaching and research), with an annual budget of EUR 296 million (61% from the Ministry of Education, 39% from external financiers). The first president will be Professor Tuula Teeri (pictured here), currently Vice President, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, Sweden.

This approach to higher education formalizes and institutionalizes (at a scaled up level) what some programs or schools are currently attempting to do in many countries (see, for example, Susan Robertson’s entry ‘A creative combination: adding MBAs and art schools together to increase innovation‘). Yet there are also historical precedents: one of my European Commission colleagues noted, for example, the similarity of Aalto University’s development agenda to the origin ideas behind the MIT Media Lab.  And I can’t help but think that the merge will also reposition these universities (or, university) in the European and global rankings exercises…while not the reason to ever do anything as bold as a merger, the rankings factor is unlikely to be irrelevant.

While the development process for Aalto University will probably not be as seamless as the FT article implies, despite being guided by a well thought through “Transformation Organisation“:

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Aalto University is shaping up to be a fascinating experiment; one well worth examining, and also comparing to smaller scale initiatives in other contexts, or different foci initiatives such as the new (built from scratch) King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia.

Finally, see below for a 22 page slide show produced by Aalto University, which is available here in PDF format.

Kris Olds

Recruiting faculty for a “new house of wisdom” in Saudi Arabia

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Source: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

Link here to examine a 7m19s long recruitment video titled ‘About KAUST‘. The publicity and recruitment function (one of many) of the International Advisory Council, which includes senior officials from European and US universities, becomes clear in this video.

A unique semi-territorialized live-work-play message is also developed in the video that encourages some grounding (live-work) in the new state-of-the-art campus, while simultaneously ensuring that regional and global mobility (work-play) will be a likely condition of life for KAUST faculty members. It will be interesting to see how the university’s leaders deal with the deterritorializing impulse that will inevitably emerge, and ensure that KAUST speaks to and serves people living in this region of Saudi Arabia, the entire country, and the Middle East. This is a clear and worthwhile objective; one underlying the creation of KAUST.  Yet, as the recruitment video conveys, the target audience is a mobile “world class” faculty base, people primarily holding US and European PhDs, and engaged in elite scholarly knowledge networks that have highly variable geographies associated with them.

Kris Olds

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

Foreign university campuses and linkage schemes: opportunities and challenges in early 2008

The establishment of overseas/branch/foreign campuses, and substantial international university linkage schemes, continues to generate news announcements and debate.

Over the last two months, for example, Queen Margaret University in Scotland announced that it would be Singapore’s first foreign campus set up by a UK university (a fact that received little media coverage in Singapore).

The University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) announced that their Singapore-based campus would be doubling in size by 2009 (a fact that received much media coverage in Singapore), while the University of Chicago’s Financial Mathematics Department announced it would establish a graduate program in Singapore, likely in association with Chicago’s Stevanovich Center for Financial Mathematics. Further details are available here.

Finally, on the Singapore front, MIT and Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) jointly announced the establishment of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Centre (SMART), a “complex of research centres set up by world-class research universities and corporations working collaboratively with Singapore’s research community”. As MIT describes it:

SMART is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) largest international research endeavor and the first research center of its kind located outside Cambridge, Mass. It will offer laboratories and computational facilities for research in several areas, including biomedical science, water resources and the environment, and possible additional research thrusts that encompass such topics as interactive digital media, energy, and scientific and engineering computation.

Besides serving as an intellectual hub for robust interactions between MIT and global researchers in Singapore, the SMART Centre will also provide MIT and Singapore new and unique opportunities to perform interdisciplinary experimental, computational and translational research that takes advantage of MIT’s long-standing collaborations in Singapore.

The joint press release can be downloaded here. Needless to say this was also a high profile media item in Singapore.

Noteworthy, too, is the fact that the Chicago and MIT initiatives in Singapore involve regular (versus contract) base campus faculty and researchers, reflecting core principles guiding their respective internationalization agendas. This is clearly enabled by direct and indirect Government of Singapore support, and relatively high tuition fees.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East and East Asia, the University of Calgary-Qatar (a joint venture between the University of Calgary and the Hamad Medical Corporation), and the University of Nottingham Ningbo, have both been busy searching out faculty (contract/contingent/secondment/visiting only, it seems) for their respective campuses.

nottningboroom.jpgEmployment sites always provide insights into how these types of ventures are represented, and how the transnational staffing dimension is handled, so check out what is on offer at Calgary-Qatar and Nottingham-Ningbo. I must admit, however, that the sterile curtained room on offer to three year-long contract faculty in Ningbo (photo to the left) does not exactly look appealing, exciting though China (and Ningbo) are. Perhaps they just hired a bad photographer:)

Over in Saudi Arabia the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which we have written about before, is filling media outlets like the Economist with full page advertisements for senior and mid-level administrative staff. The largesse available to KAUST, and the Singaporean influence on its development model, was also evident when it announced, incrementally in globally circulated press releases, that it was moving forward on substantial collaborative ventures, at an institutional scale, with the American University in Cairo, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Imperial College London, Institut Français du Pétrole, National University of Singapore, Stanford University, Technische Universität München, University of California, Berkeley, University of Texas at Austin, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. These are substantial and lucrative linkages, according to Changing Higher Education, with Berkeley’s Mechanical Engineering Department (the lead linkage unit at Berkeley), for example, receiving US $28 million to participate in this scheme between 2008 and 2013.

KAUST is also attempting to leapfrog in the development process by buying in individual scientific support via their Global Research Partnership (GRP) Investigator competition. This scheme, which will initially support 12 “high caliber researchers” from the “world’s leading research universities”, allows KAUST greater flexibility to target individual researchers in fields or universities that might not be enabled via institutional linkage schemes like the ones mentioned above.

kaustcampus.jpgInterestingly KAUST’s graphic design consultants have worked very hard to create a sunny high tech image for the campus, which is still being developed, though they actually have less to work with (on the ground) than does Nottingham in Ningbo, not to mention significant security concerns to plan for when foreigners (especially US citizens) are involved. It just goes to show you how much work good or bad graphics (still & video, including the fascinating five minute long campus profile below) can do in creating distinctive representations of campuses such that they might appeal to mobile faculty and researchers living outside of the host country.

And on the analytical news front, Inside Higher Ed, and the New York-based Social Science Research Council’s new Knowledge Rules blog, both posted critical articles on the overseas campus institutional development model by Andrew Ross, a professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University (NYU), a university we profiled with respect to institutional strategic issues last autumn. Finally, Inside Higher Ed provided coverage of one initiative that had California Polytechnic State University, working with Jubail University College in Saudi Arabia, to develop approximately $6 million worth of programs for Jubail’s male only student population. But, as Inside Higher Ed notes, moving forward on this initiative might rub against (in a dejure or defacto way) core elements of Cal Poly’s internal code of conduct, and the national legal system it is embedded within (in this case U.S. equal employment laws that bar discrimination). The issue was put this way:

Faculty skeptical of the project — and by some accounts there’s plenty of skepticism on campus — wonder: Will opportunities truly be equally available to all Cal Poly faculty? Would women feel they can apply for an on-site director position in a country where they, unlike their male colleagues, would be barred from driving? What about homosexual faculty? Would they see good professional options in a country where sodomy is punishable by death? What about Jewish faculty in an Islamic country without religious freedoms?

The administration says that the bulk of the work to develop the programs would likely happen on the California campus. But site visits and long-term director positions abroad would be available. And there aren’t just opportunities, but also money, at stake here: The proposed base annual salary for a senior faculty member working on the project is $180,000.

Transnational complications, indeed.

Entangling institutional infrastructures from different countries cannot help but generate some inter-cultural and institutional conflict: indeed this is sometimes the rationale for supporting the concept of overseas campuses. But the Ross articles, the Cal Poly-Saudi debate, and Amy Newhall’s entry in GlobalHigherEd last autumn (‘Liberal education venturing abroad?: American universities in the Middle East‘), are but a few reminders that much more thinking is required about the underlying forces facilitating the development of such ventures, the nature of the deliberative processes on campuses that are considering such ventures (which has been, to date, driven in a top down fashion, for good and for bad, by what I would deem administrative entrepreneurs), and the nature of the memorandum of understandings (MoUs) and legal agreements that lock in such linkage schemes (usually for a five year period, in the first instance).

The evidence, to date, suggests that there is incredible diversity in drafting overseas campus and linkage arrangements, ranging from the unsophisticated and opaque to the sophisticated and transparent. It is perhaps time for some systematic rules and guidelines to be developed by international organizations like UNESCO and the OECD (extending the UNESCO/OECD guidelines on “Quality provision in cross-border higher education”). It is also worth pondering why publicly supported institutions are not active, and indeed sometimes hostile to, the public release of relevant MoUs and legal agreements. Public release clauses could, after all, even be built into the MoUs and agreements in the first place; a “non-negotiable” item in the terms of participants at a recent American Council of Education Leadership Network on International Education meeting. One of many unfinished debates about this emerging global higher ed phenomenon…

Kris Olds

Constructing knowledge/spaces in the Middle East: KAUST and beyond

Further to our recent entries on Qatar Education City, NYU Abu Dhabi, and ‘Liberal education venturing abroad: American universities in the Middle East‘, Wednesday’s Financial Times and today’s New York Times both have informative pieces about Saudi Arabia’s attempt to rapidly construct a new “MIT” in the desert. The Institute of the Future’s informative blog, which we happily just discovered, also has an illuminating profile of this development. And also see Beerkens’ Blog for another illuminating analysis.

kaust.jpg

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a US$12.5 billion university, is being built from scratch, with a formal groundbreaking ceremony on 21 October 2007. The development of new universities, and foreign campuses or programs in Saudia Arabia, is clearly an indicator of a desire for significant economic and cultural shifts amongst select elites. This said the development process is an incredibly complicated one, and riddled with a series of tensions, mutually supporting objectives, and some challenging contradictions. It is also a very geographic one, with supporters of such developments seeking to create new and qualitatively different spaces of knowledge consumption, production and circulation. The Financial Times had this to say:

Kaust plans to bring western standards of education to a Saudi institution amid an environment of academic freedom. The university, loosely based on Aramco’s gated community where the kingdom’s social mores are watered down, is set to push the boundaries of gender segregation in an education system where men and women very rarely meet.

The university plans to guarantee academic freedom, bypassing any religious pressure from conservative elements, by forming a board of trustees that will use recently approved bylaws to protect the independence of the university.

“It’s a given that academic freedom will be protected,” says Nadhmi al-Nasr, an Aramco executive who is Kaust’s interim president.

His assertion has yet to be tested but the mix of academic freedom and social liberalism could spark criticism despite the king’s patronage.

Dar al-Hikma, a private women’s college in Jeddah, has faced trouble from those who reject social liberalism. “Many have opposed us but this is different – the king is behind Kaust,” says the Dr Suhair al-Qurashi, the college’s dean.

At a broader scale KAUST is also being designed to generate an interdependent relationship with King Abdullah Economic City, a US$27 billion mixed use development project that is situated near the university. And at an even broader scale KAUST is designed to help transform the structure of the Saudi economy. Nadhmi A. Al-Nasr (KAUST’s interim president) put it this way:

“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.”

As is the case with other new universities being developed in the 1990s and 2000s (e.g., Singapore Management University‘s development was strongly shaped by Wharton faculty, especially Janice R. Bellace), the Saudis are acquiring intellectual guidance and advice from a variety of non-local academics and administrators, including a veritable Who’s Who of senior university officials from around the world. Link here for further media and blog coverage of KAUST.

The myriad of changes in the Middle Eastern higher ed landscape are ideal research topics, and they are more than deserving of attention given their scale, and potential for impact, success and/or failure. But who is conducting such research? We might be wrong but not a lot of substantial analysis seems to have been written up and published to date. If you are reading this and you are doing such work let us know – we’d be happy to profile your writings here in GlobalHigherEd, and/or engage in some international comparative dialogue.

Kris Olds