RIYADH, 6 November 2006 — Members of the Shoura Council — many of whom are professors — strongly criticized the Kingdom’s system of higher education yesterday. They said it needed to be changed in order to serve the nation in the age of globalization. The session was attended by a number of faculty members from the Kingdom’s universities.
Dr. Saud Al-Shammari, a member of the council’s Education and Scientific Committee, said that members should ask themselves honestly whether the Kingdom’s current system of higher education could meet the needs of future generations.
“The current system,” he said, “does not serve the needs of the economy and society. It is the old system with only a few changes to the administration and finance segments. The educational content remains unchanged.”
He said that higher education in the Kingdom “should be freed from bureaucracy and financial restrictions” and called for universities to be financially independent so that they could serve society and foster development through genuine scientific research and studies.
Dr. Al-Shammari also called for the free movement of academics between universities and educational institutions and said it was imperative that Saudi universities register as many non-Saudis as possible.
“Universities should be independent entities,” he said. “I call upon the Shoura Council to reconsider many of the education system’s regulations in order for us to catch up with international developments. Openness to the global community is a strategic option.”
Dr. Bandar Al-Hajjar, another Shoura Council member, said the current system of higher education system did not serve the Kingdom’s economic needs. “It is unfortunate that in the Top 500 list of universities in the world, there is not a single Saudi university,” he said. “Even when we look at the Top 3,000 universities of the world, Saudi universities do not appear until the 2,900s,” he commented.
He called for elections to be held in Saudi universities and said that the Kingdom’s universities needed diversified expertise and qualified personnel from universities worldwide.
Dr. Muhammad Al-Zulfa, another Shoura Council member, said that the current system of unifying all procedures and laws for the Kingdom’s universities was “similar to unifying elementary school laws.” He said students and faculty members of the Kingdom’s universities were “miserable” and called for the Kingdom’s universities to be independent from the Ministry of Higher Education in terms of finance and administration.
“Universities all over the world are independent. We will soon have 16 universities in the Kingdom and there is no way that the minister will have the time to attend and preside at all relevant university meetings,” he pointed out.
Saleh Al-Husseini, also a member of the Shoura Council, said that statistics showed there had been a 60 percent increase in the number of female graduates compared to male graduates and that nothing was being done to accommodate female graduates.
He described the current system as being “centralized, not giving enough financial guarantees and not being open to global communities.” Al-Husseini noted the example of how India had emerged as the fourth largest economy in the world due to the success and contributions of its universities.