Saudi co-ed university highlights need for education reform
(Photo:KAUST under construction near Jeddah, 19 Oct 2008/Asma Alsharif)
Saudi Arabia is launching its first co-educational high-tech university, but unless clerical influence is removed the state education system will not move into the modern age, analysts say. King Abdullah has invited heads of state, business leaders and Nobel laureates next week to the opening of a technology university which has attracted top scientists and is meant to produce Saudi scientists and engineers.
The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is the first institute in one of the world’s biggest oil exporters that is outside the reach of the education ministry, where clerics opposing cutting religious content have a strong say. Men and women will be able to mingle, a stark contrast to otherwise strict gender segregation in the Islamic kingdom.
Despite its immense financial resources, the parameters of Saudi school and university education are governed by religious strictures and many subjects are off-limits for women to study.
While KAUST enjoys almost unlimited funds, sophisticated equipment and is run by an independent board, most Saudi schools and universities have curriculums still dominated by religion, despite reform efforts begun after the September 11 attacks of 2001.
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