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Saudi’s “house of wisdom” opens

Saudi’s “house of wisdom” opens

The kingdom’s new university promises to offer an environment where young researchers – both men and women – can work together.

September 23, 2009 1:11 by

KAUST has registered 817 students so far, out of which 15 percent are Saudis. While 314 begin classes this month, the rest begin their courses in 2010, reports the Associated Press. The university’s president, Choon Fong Shih, told the agency that all the students will receive scholarships and a stipend. The universities annual tuition fees range between $60,000 to $70,000, he said.

A co-ed university, women will not have to wear veils or cover their faces, and will be allowed to drive on campus, says the agency. “We see the beginning of a community that is unique [in Saudi Arabia]”, Shih said.  “We do not restrict how they wish to work among themselves,” he said, talking about interaction between men and women on campus. “It’s a research environment …. driven by scientific agenda.”

But most media reports speculate that this degree of freedom could cause problems with conservative leaders in the kingdom. While Saudi is hoping that the university will grow - by 2020 it hopes to have 2,000 students and a faculty of 225 - analysts wonder if it will be able to make a difference to the kingdom’s society.

“Whilst the KAUST will provide long-term prospects and greater incentives … to move into applied higher education, the KAUST may become another institution that is isolated from the rest of the Saudi educational system and society,” Nuseibeh, a political risk analyst told Reuters.

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