Saudi Arabia Launches a Research University

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is being built in Saudi Arabia as an international, graduate-level research university dedicated to inspiring a new age of scientific achievement in the kingdom that will also benefit the region and the world.

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The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is being built in Saudi Arabia as an international, graduate-level research university dedicated to inspiring a new age of scientific achievement in the kingdom that will also benefit the region and the world. With a ten billion US$ endowment, KAUST will be among the richest universities in the world. KAUST is the brainchild of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. He is also providing three billion US$ to build a campus and a university town on the Red Sea at Rabigh (about 170km north-west of Makkah and 80km north of Jeddah).
The university, a residential and commercial centre, and a research park will all be constructed over an area of 3,200 acres. The campus will also be constructed for low environmental impact, with an emphasis on energy efficiency, sustainable development, and conservation of historical/cultural sites and sensitive ecosystems.
From the very inception KAUST is being set up with a radically different approach. It will not be organized around traditional academic departments, but around interdisciplinary research institutes. It is not being built on an undergraduate core, but rather is exclusively focused on PhD and Master’s education. As an independent, merit-based institution, KAUST will adopt many of the best practices from leading research universities and enable top researchers from around the globe and across all cultures to work together to solve challenging scientific and technological issues. KAUST shall initially focus on four interdisciplinary research clusters: 1) energy and environment; 2) biosciences and engineering; 3) materials science and engineering; and 4) applied mathematics and computational science.
The new university will be merit based, open to men and women students and researchers from around the world, chosen only on the basis of academic qualification. One of its goals is to contribute to the transformation of the Saudi society into a knowledge producing force. KAUST will provide leading researchers – both faculty and students – with the resources they need to do their best work and pursue their professional goals: cutting-edge tools and an environment uniquely free of administrative barriers that can inhibit innovation and discovery. It is expected to attract the best minds – based strictly on merit – and create a collaborative community of passionate and talented researchers from around the world. It shall act as a catalyst for research that applies science and technology to problems of human need, social advancement, and economic development in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East region. It shall feature an academic structure that organizes interdisciplinary teams around problems of science and technology, a structure that most leaders in higher education around the world agree is well suited to meet the demands of 21st century research.
KAUST’s academic philosophy is to encourage collaboration and collegial relationships that can spawn innovation and invention. This goal initially will be advanced by funding collaborative research centres – university based, multiple investigators, with private sector participation; individual university based researchers; and postdoctoral fellows. Additional types of partnerships may be developed in the future. KAUST has already launched its scholarship program. Recruitment for qualified students is now underway around the world. The KAUST Discovery Scholarship is the general scholarship programme. This Programme is designed to ensure that any highly talented student who is qualified and eligible to enrol in KAUST will receive full financial support while at the University. The KAUST Discovery Scholarship will provide full tuition, a living stipend, book and computer allowances, and summer and career enrichment programs to qualified science and technology students at their home institutions prior to the University’s opening in September 2009. Upon graduation, these students will enter KAUST as master’s degree students in September 2009 and 2010 and complete their studies on a fully funded scholarship. KAUST will offer Discovery Scholarships to all KAUST students – an exceptional level of support intended to attract gifted and talented students from Saudi Arabia and from other countries around the world.
KAUST has entered into formal partnerships with several institutions including, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Institut Français du Pétrole in France, the National University of Singapore, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IITB) and the American University in Cairo. KAUST and IIT Bombay agreed to establish research projects or programs planned and executed by either organization individually or by both collectively. The principal areas of research and collaboration to be developed and supported include chemical and energy sciences and engineering; materials sciences and engineering; research in biosciences and the environment; and applied mathematics and computational sciences.
KAUST is sure sign that Saudi Arabia wants to participate in the international community of research universities. KAUST will be the continuation of the tradition of scholarly inquiry dating back to ancient Islamic institutions of learning. The KAUST website, provides further information about its hefty scholarships and ample opportunities for collaborative programmes.

[Sameen Ahmed Khan teaches in the Engineering Department, Salalah College of Technology (SCOT), Salalah, Sultanate of Oman. He can be contacted at]