Interview: Badran Al Omar
How would you characterise the relationship between the public and private universities, and to what extent can they complement each other?
BADRAN AL OMAR: The Kingdom’s public and private universities enjoy excellent relations and we complement each other in many ways, including knowledge-sharing and via several research collaborations and partnerships. This facilitates the transition to a knowledge-based economy, which is the long-term vision of the Kingdom’s leadership. The addition of private universities has also complemented the government’s objective of expanding the overall capacity of higher education. This helps ensure that students have sufficient opportunities and options when applying to universities.
In what ways can the implementation of e-learning programmes improve the flexibility and accessibility of a university-level education for students in rural regions or working professionals?
AL OMAR: The implementation of e-learning programmes will vastly improve the flexibility and accessibility of a university-level education for students in rural regions or working professionals. We have taken special care to ensure that accessibility is provided for everyone and not just those within our university premises. This will facilitate great change in the way information and knowledge can be accessed, thus bringing about education and development in rural regions. Working professionals will also be able to utilise this.
To what extent are the Kingdom’s universities leading the development of research and development (R&D) capabilities?
AL OMAR: The Kingdom’s universities have been pioneers for R&D in Saudi Arabia. King Saud University and other universities are looking to add to their R&D capabilities by identifying better regional and international partners for collaboration, recruiting the best researchers and updating the technology infrastructure. Saudi universities are responsible for a growing number of published research papers, which is the result of encouraging in-house R&D efforts and forming partnerships with the world’s leading universities and research institutions.
How can commercialisation of this research benefit economic diversification efforts?
AL OMAR: As in the case of any knowledge-based economy, our research, when commercially viable, will benefit economic diversification efforts. With a young and highly educated population and a government with the will and financial resources to support R&D activities, we will see this research serving as a catalyst for economic development. Until recently the Kingdom’s economy has been depending on its oil resources, but the focus on a knowledge-based economy has started to bring about the changes we see now, and God willing, future generations will reap the rewards of the efforts that we are putting in now.
What is being done to increase the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in higher education?
AL OMAR: STEM curriculum is an interdisciplinary and applied approach as it integrates four disciplines into a cohesive learning programme based on real-world applications. Just like any other country in the world, the Kingdom requires graduates that can excel in STEM and can meet market demands. We understand this challenge and are trying to integrate this within our higher education academic curriculum.
What role can universities play in guiding more students towards careers in the private sector?
AL OMAR: Saudi graduates now look favourably at private sector careers. This is partly due to the experience they gain from their education. During their time at university, they are exposed to research and collaboration with organisations from the private sector. The top private sector companies also hold job fairs on campus.
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