Saudi university to break several barriers


Officially the goal of this week’s launch of the sprawling new facility is to propel the kingdom into the heady global ranks of technological research.

But with women on campus not having to shroud themselves in the black abaya and allowed to drive cars, an unstated aim is to chip away at the strict restrictions on Saudi women imposed by hardline Muslim clerics.

Tomorrow, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, in a keystone of his attempts to power his country into the 21st century, will open the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology — KAUST — probably the only postgraduate research university ever built from scratch.

Both the ambition and the billions of dollars thrown at the project have sparked deep interest in the global science community.

In just three years the Saudis have constructed a high-tech campus of huge modernist buildings on a 36-square-kilometre desert plot on the Red Sea coast, and recruited hundreds of scientists and students from around the world.

KAUST has already launched joint research programmes with institutions ranging from the National University of Singapore to France’s Institut Francais du Petrole to Britain’s Cambridge and Stanford in the United States.

And it has created its own research operations spanning nanotechnology, applied mathematics, solar energy, membrane research and bioengineering.

“Two years ago it was nothing but sand and sea. Today there is one of the best infrastructures for research,” KAUST president Choon Fong Shih said.


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