Saudi Arabia: KAUST To Inspire Scientific Achievement – And More?

On September 23, Saudi Arabia's National Day, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology was inaugurated. It is a graduate-level research university with state-of-the-art facilities, and has attracted scientists and students from more than 60 countries. The KAUST campus is located at Thuwal on the Red Sea coast north of Jeddah, and is the first coeducational university in the country, where students will be able to mix freely in classes. In this post we hear reactions to the inauguration of KAUST by bloggers in Saudi Arabia, including some KAUST students.

Nathan Collier is an American postdoctoral researcher at KAUST:

The idea of the University is to be a graduate school only in sciences and mathematics. The goal is to function much like a government lab would, with directed research foci, yet have students come to be part of this also. KAUST has done a fabulous job at attracting great people to its faculty and has taken an aggressive stance to become a significant contributor to the world's scientific knowledge. There is a lot of skepticism about whether the University will succeed, but at this point these discussions are not fruitful. The point now is to work hard to make it a success and help contribute to our understanding of the way our world works.

Eric Martin, blogging at Sober Saudi, is an American master's student:

(A)s the first class of a University, there is a heavier burden of responsibility that lies on the students shoulders than there is with following classes (obviously). Traditions, formation of student government, and academic standards are just a few key responsibilities that come to mind. […] As student unions form, students settle, and classes come into maturity, there remains one balancing act left for KAUST to master; respecting the Saudi culture while simultaneously keeping the open mind that will attract scholars from around the world for years to come. One Indian friend put it bluntly, calling it a “lose-lose” situation; suggesting that if KAUST gets too liberal the nation won’t support it, but if it is too conservative it will become just another “Saudified” university. I’m still ambivalent at this point, “near-beer” in hand.

Eric attended the inauguration of the university, and was in awe:

Tonight I attended my first Royal Ball, on National Saudi Day, hosted by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques (and now KAUST); King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. The official event, the KAUST Inauguration Ceremony. I have never felt better (or cooler for that matter) being so insignificant in my entire life, if you can grasp that. There’s something special about being in the presence of a King, a REAL King. I get the idea that there are many such “Kings” in our world today, but only few actually have the power to inspire a nation. King Abdullah is one of those few. […] KAUST’s motto has always been “Through Inspiration. Discovery.” Fortunately for this Inaugural class, “Inspiration” is coming in the form of extravagant events, and until KAUST becomes yet another “Self-Inspiring” university, we can only imagine what grand act awaits us next. I’ve already put in a request for either stealing the World Cup from South Africa or bringing Michael Jackson back from the dead, whichever costs less.

Nathan, another American at KAUST, writes at Saudi Aggie:

The more I learn about King Abdullah, the more I have grown to like his policies, his savvy politics (necessary in such an ideologically diverse country), and his progressive vision for the country. The King deserves a Nobel prize for bringing us together here in Saudi Arabia from different countries and cultures to learn more about the world through science…and to learn more and build bridges between each other's cultures while we are here.

Abdullah Al-Duhailan is proud of his country’s achievement:

بلا شك أن الحدث عظيم وجلل، حيث تجسيد المعنى الحقيقي لليوم الوطني. أي، البناء والعمل والتخطيط. اليوم شعرت أننا نعمل بشكل صحيح، أننا نقطف ثمار ثروات هذه البلاد التي يستحق الظفر بها كل مواطن شريف على هذه الأرض. اليوم نحن نلفت أنظار الناس إلينا، ليس لأن النفط يقبع تحت أرضنا، أو لأن أحد شباننا أو شاباتنا ارتكب فضيحة تسود منها الوجوه، أو بسبب مقاطع خطيرة تنبأ بالاستهتار بالحياة والترحيب بالموت تحت إطارات السيارات، أو عبط شبابي لترفيه والتسلية فقط، أو نشر التعصب والمفاخرة بالجاهلية الأولى.. وغيرها مما لطخت صفحة هذا الوطن، وشكل صورة سيئة عنه وصمة جميع أفراد بها، وغالبيتهم منها براءة. اليوم، وما أجمله من يوم، نقول للعالم بأسره، نحن نلفت الأنظار إلينا بالعلم، نحن نلفت الأنظار لأننا خدمنا الإنسانية جمعا. نلفت الأنظار لأننا أعطينا الإنسان أحد أهم حقوقه، وهو العمل والتعليم، والارتقاء بكرامته. اليوم نوقد شمعة وسط الظلام والجهل العلمي والمعرفي، نوقدها للعالم كافة.
There is no doubt that this event is great and momentous, embodying the true meaning of National Day. That is, building, work, and planning. Today I felt that we are doing things in the right way, that we are harvesting the fruits of the wealth of this country, which every honourable citizen in this land deserves to possess. Today, we are attracting people’s attention, not because of the oil resting beneath our land, or because one of our young men or women has created a scandal which brings shame upon us, or because of dangerous road intersections that are evidence of a scorn for life and a desire for death under car tyres, or silly youthful entertainment and amusement, or the spreading of tribalism and boasting about the first Jahiliyya era…not to mention that which has stained the page of this nation, and created a bad image of it and tarnished all the individuals in it, the majority of them innocent. Today, the most beautiful of days, we can tell the whole world that we are attracting their attention because of science; we are attracting attention because we have served humanity. We are attracting attention because we have given humankind some of its most important rights, work and education, and increased its dignity. Today we light a candle in the midst of darkness and ignorance about science and knowledge, and we light it for the whole world.

Ahmed Al-Omran, who blogs at Saudi Jeans, is in a reflective mood:

Last Wednesday was the 79th National Day of Saudi Arabia. […] I salute those who live by the ideals of this nation, and find the courage in themselves to stop, think and reflect, and then say: we can do better than this, we must do better that this, we are better than this. That’s why when I read that groups of young men in different parts of the country decided to celebrate the National Day by acting like hooligans, I was disturbed but not surprised or shocked. […] Although we have a great country, we are yet to construct a plural identity and make those boys realize that what they were vandalizing is actually theirs. Our national identity has been tied to individuals, tribes and religion among other things, but never to the country which we all should belong. […] At the very same moments when the hooligans were destroying storefronts in Riyadh and Khobar, a dream of our King was coming true in Thuwal. […] The launch of KAUST promises a new dawn for Saudi Arabia, the beginning of a future based on knowledge and enlightenment. That’s the promise, but will we ever come to realize it or even just come near it? How can we make sure that KAUST will not end up, in the words of Rasheed Aboulsamh, as a west coast Aramco enclave, where freedom and progressive thinking prevail while the rest of the country remains hostage to a religious dogma controlled by a select few? The celebrations of the National Day, the opening of KAUST, the acts of vandalism, and everything else that happened over the course of this past year left me with many conflicted feelings: aspiration and disappointment, hope and despair. But more than anything, this 23rd of September left me with many questions, and no answers.


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    I hope that you can help me to find appropriated African research partners and to enjoy to this program as partner.

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  • khadija al salah

    AsslamAlikum to my muslims brother & sisters,
    I am very happy to know about this university inshAllah this will bring the muslims to look toward better eduction and just do not think we have oil and that is enough. i Wish the Saudi King would have give chance to have perminant 5% palistian students to study in this university. i am from kuwait and i hope our govt will set up better universities for the kuwaities and our muslims brother from palistain and africa ,
    May Allah keep all of Us Safe and sound Ameen

  • Ashik

    Saudis are still foolish. There is no possibility of Kaust getting a top class universities, simply because there are only 800 student, 79 faculties and 8 or 9 majors. As one bloggers have said, it can only be a government research lab. Only pouring money to universities does not make it better.

    For example, the IITs in india have a fraction of the 10 billion endowment that Kaust have, but is probably a lightyear ahead of Kaust. Its because a “culture” of learning is present there. Untill saudi arabia comes out of the dogmatic and narrow explanation of islam and the monarchy, spending 100 bn will not do. I am now attending Texas Tech University in USA that has an endowment of only 700mn, but the learning atmosphere is great, it is a great university. And it is serving 25000 students of about 100 major.

    Scientific research not only means natural science or technology. Scientific research can even be applied to even poetry or sociology. Many of the innovations in technology borrowed their ideas from philosophy and vice versa. US, Fance and Japan not only leads in technology, but also in social science and humanities.

  • Julio Mexico

    I’m not a saudi and i heard a lot of horrilbe and human abuse in saudi arabia specialy against guest workers as they call them. However, i disagree with your comment ” Narrow interpretation of Islam” now a days it is becoming normal for people to attack and to write negative things about Islam, who are we to tell Moslems you miss uderstand your religion. you know, i do have respect for moslems, because i do not see them writting negative things about other religion. Just becasue a Moslem countries or moslem individuals did something wrong it does not mean Islam is to blame.

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  • […] stel voor dat de koning de gemeente Jeddah overdraagt aan ARAMCO, net zoals hij dat deed met KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology [en]) toen duidelijk werd dat ambtenaren de begroting […]

  • […] a new Barcamp, in Saudi Arabia, will be held at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) on January. The barcamp will focus on entrepreneurship. Post Published: 24 January 2010 Author: […]

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