Issues Faced by a Mainstream Saudi University in Internationalization
By virtue of its history, Saudi Arabia is by and large a conservative society. Not only was the traditional nomadic way of life common until a couple of generations ago, the special position of the Saudi monarchy and religious establishment as the guardians of the two holiest places in Islam, the cities of Mecca and Medina, confer upon the Saudi population a special status and obligation to be exemplars of the virtues extolled in the Holy Quran. This conservatism is a national strength in that it provides the Saudi population with solid cultural heritage and stamina. This enables them to resist corrosion by unwanted and undesirable aspects and influences of modernization and allows Saudi Arabia to develop societal resilience. This can also be a liability if, as a result, Saudi Arabia concentrates too much of its gaze inwards and shuts out too much of the outside world in an effort to keep corrupting influences at bay. KAU has a key role to play in reconciling the apparent differences between conflicting values.
A university is positioned as a summit of learning. In today's world, this must include learning in an intellectual and questioning manner, rigorously addressing the complexities abounding in the kaleidoscopic outside world. Among Saudi universities, KAU is unique in the kingdom in terms of historical position and geographic location. Not only is KAU holding the name of the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz, it is also located in the major Red Sea Port of Jeddah housing one of the country's main airports and is well connected internationally. It is also close to Mecca and Medina, the two most potent symbols of Islamic culture and values. The port and airport open the doors of the world for KAU students so that they can understand and absorb and adapt to influences from the outside world. The proximity of Islam's Holy Shrines is a perpetual reminder to KAU's learning community of Saudi Arabia's unique position and responsibilities.
As KAU embarks on its Third Strategic Plan, there is an opportunity of exceptional potential for the university to stand out from the pack, not just in Saudi Arabia, but also globally, by creating a new model of education—“KAU Education—the Best of Both Worlds: the modern world and the Islamic World”.
Sun sets on Jeddah Seaport (photo by Guaning Su)