Regardless of whether the student resides on or off campus, an effective system of student government is a key to life skills education and effective governance of students in the university. At NTU, there are three categories of student organizations. One is residence based, organized by campus residential halls. This is the most robust of the three categories. Then there are student organizations in each school based on major study disciplines. The third, purely voluntary, are student initiated interest groups covering areas such as music, sports, community service and culture. Above all these organizations is the umbrella organization, the Students Union headed by an elected President. KAU may wish to develop its own model taking references from universities around the world. Two features are important in my view. Fundamental building blocks such as residential halls provide a sense of belonging at a more human scale in a mega-university. A central unified organizational structure that truly represents the students and is regularly engaged by university administration is also required.
The purpose of student government is not only to allow students to prepare themselves for their future adult political environments. It provides opportunities for the natural emergence of student leaders. It is also an effective means of communication between the university leadership and the student community, especially during times of crisis. A case in point being at NTU, where having such a communication mechanism in place proved to be invaluable during the 2003 SARS crisis.
A Broad Arts-Science Education as the Foundation
An enquiring mind is a great asset for intellectual curiosity, motivation to explore and life-long learning. In the best universities of the world, a strong foundation in the Arts and Sciences is incorporated in the educational model. This has also been the direction set at the two major Singaporean universities: Nanyang Technological University and National University of Singapore, both of which have risen steadily in rankings in recent years.
For example, at Stanford University, renowned as the source of Silicon Valley, Integrated Humanities was a requirement for all entering freshmen with readings assigned even before arrival on campus. In addition, science requirements were satisfied through course requirements and electives. This broad foundation is common among the very best universities such as the Ivy League in the US, Stanford, MIT and Caltech, as well as the best public universities such as University of California, Berkeley and University of Michigan.
Such a foundation programme would need to take into account local Saudi conditions. There is a rich trove of literary tradition in Arabic to draw upon for the humanities. Islamic art and mosque architecture could perhaps be fertile domains for the arts, while the rich Islamic and Arab heritages in the fields of mathematics and science could prove rich knowledge resources for the sciences. Islamic history and other regional history might also be considered for inclusion as suitable foundation studies subjects.
Former KAU Vice President for Development (left) receives the ABET site reviewers during their visit to KAU