Thursday, February 7, 2008

New University in Saudi Arabia

I have been meaning to write about this for several days, but with classes settling into a clipping pace and with research/TA duties, posts may be a little more spaced out than usual. Anyway, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has donated $10 billion (that's right, billion with a b) of his own pocket change to create the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology or KAUST for short. (I won't make the obvious pun about the kaust of the university. Oops, I just did.) This endowment is one of the 10 largest ever. It's funding will be similar to that of top schools like Harvard and MIT.

What is amazing about this university is exactly how much effort is being put into making it a great center of learning. Instead of being divided into departments in the traditional way (Chemistry, Math, Biology, English, Drama, etc.), KAUST is divided into interdisciplinary institutes which focus on working with industry and solving important global problems. So far, there are four institutes listed: Resources, Energy and Environment; Biosciences and Bioengineering; Materials Science and Engineering; and Applied Mathematics and Computational Science.

To increase the amount and efficiency of research at the new university, the science faculty will be provided with grants totaling $1 billion over ten years (that's total, not per scientist). This will help the scientists focus on their research instead of continuously digging up money to support their projects.

There is a similar incentive for students. Besides the several scholarships available to undergraduate students, all juniors, seniors, and graduate students will be provided free tuition for the next ten years.

You can seen the layout of the new university here. Hopefully the real campus will be as amazing as the 3D models.

This is an exciting time to be a student in Saudi Arabia. Education is the solution to so many of the world's social problems. Here's hoping it turns out as amazing as it sounds on paper.

You can read some more about his through Scientific American or from Bob Novella at The Rogues Gallery.


Old sliderule geek said...

As a Jew and a political independent put me down as not too thrilled. Will Jews be admitted to the faculty and undegraduate body? What about those who question the fairness of the Saud family having a stranglehold on all those petrodollars and on one of the last family ruled nations in the world?

Would that our own government diverted the hundreds of billions that we more into "democratizing" a Middle East that wants sharia law not democracy, or better yet taxed the $$$ that we pour into our SUVs, to fund an Energy and Enviornment Institute or a Global Warming Institute.

I wouldn't trust the science that comes from a source that wants to continue feeding our oil addiction.

Ben said...

There was a statement from King Abdullah that part of the reason for creating the university was to try and ween the country from depending on their oil as much as they do now.

I suppose we'll see how tolerant the University is of others. If there is serious research being done at this university, I would say it is a step in the right direction. If the research is no good, we'll know soon enough.

Filmi Geek said...

I'll try not to make the obvious "posts more spaced out than usual" joke. Whoops, I just did!

The Saudi Royal family is interesting, complex, and often very secular, so there's hope that the university could be as open to the free exchange of ideas as American universities are (read that as you like).

Hope school is going well and all.

carla (madhu)

Ben said...

Haha thanks. The semester has really exploded in terms of the amount of work that is being required of me. The three of us who post on the blog have really been struggling to put stuff up as often as we can. Thanks for reading!