Importance for Saudi Students to Understand and Tap World Mega-Trends

KAU education can be seen as a bridge between the modern world and the Islamic World. The modern world has witnessed an exponential explosion of knowledge and rapid proliferation of pathways to access knowledge. Such an explosion of knowledge has however brought in its wake untruths, half-truths, unverifiable claims, propaganda and misinformation of every conceivable variety. The world is only now beginning to attempt to sift the gems from the chaff.

Another modern trend is the proliferation of new discoveries at the boundaries between disciplines, the so-called trans-disciplinary research and holistic approach to problem solving. Saudi Arabia itself is an excellent example. Being energy-rich and water-poor gives rise to opportunities for synergy between petroleum, environmental and agricultural disciplines, due to the close link between water availability and food production, as well as the trade-offs between water recovery, desalination and energy consumption. The opportunity to discover and develop solutions at the boundaries of these very divergent fields could result in a leading position for Saudi research, innovation and industry. Saudi Arabia can take a leading role in development of results that optimize the input of energy for agricultural production and clean water output. On the humanities front, there is the challenge to develop the interface between the traditional Islamic values of the historically mainly nomadic Arabian Peninsula on the one hand, the highly developed infrastructure of modern Saudi Arabia on the other, and the prosperous and well-travelled Saudi populace. This poses important questions concerning Islamic values and culture in a modern context. Results from research on these areas can be readily embedded in undergraduate and professional education programmes at KAU.

Prince Faisal bin Salman, Governor of Madina, (right) receives in his office in Feb. 2015 the KAU team who conducted a study on the volcanic regions in Madina as KAU Vice-President for Graduate Studies and Research (back) looks on

History tells of the regular rhythm of the rise and fall of great powers and civilizations. Both Asia and the Middle East had glorious periods of pre-eminence historically but it has so happened that modern technology has been mainly led by Western Europe in the last 300 years. The United States only began the progress that led to its present position of prominence some 100 years ago. From the perspective of the time scale of millennia, the dominance of the West in technology might perhaps be seen to be a transient phenomenon.

Asia is already starting to reclaim its past stature, led by China, Japan and Korea, proving that technological progress is not the sole preserve of the West. If we look back at the flowering of Islamic culture during the period the Moors were in Southern Europe and the Caliphate of the successors of Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h) spanned the entire Middle East and Southern Europe, it is clear that Islam has historically provided fertile soil beneficial to a society of intellectual excellence. Ideas and inventions with enduring world impact flowered under Islam at that time.

This can reoccur with the Islamic world and with Saudi Arabia. KAU can be an important agent of change, leading the way with an educational model of excellence. The convergence of Islamic values, modern technology and the internet provides fertile ground for the grooming of KAU students. As a major university with close to 100,000 students, KAU can be the reliable portal to the world for its students in the first instance, and the students themselves can, in their turn, likewise serve as an important portal for Saudi Arabia.

Photo of the 1st KAU International Advisory Board meeting held on KAU Main Campus

Such a role as an internationalization portal has major implications for KAU. This can be seen as one of the driving forces that led the university to establish the IAB. It is also an important driving force behind the establishment of KAU's first two strategic plans and the current preparation of the third strategic plan. Indirectly, it provides part of the impetus that the university leadership has drawn on to enhance KAU's international reputation that has resulted in increasingly higher international rankings.

Preparing such a large university for strategic re-positioning is by no means an easy feat. It starts with an administration open to ideas, open to and able to implement change. It needs highly qualified, active research faculty who are not only international authorities, but who are also knowledgeable about Saudi Arabia and able to apply their expertise to the country's benefit. Many of the strategic plan initiatives are driven by such considerations. Guided by the university leadership and with the support of the IAB, they will be implemented progressively over the course of the next few years.

KAU Dean of Student Affairs (4th from right) and KAU Dean of Admission and Registration (4th from left) pose in a photo with new graduates

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