RIYADH: The Saudi minister of education, Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh, opened the 8th session of the International Exhibition and Conference on Higher Education (IECHE 2019) in Riyadh on Wednesday.
The conference, titled “Transforming Saudi Universities in an Era of Change,” will host representatives of 372 universities from 33 countries, and last four days.
Al-Asheikh said: “This conference will focus on important topics central to our changing world. Therefore, the title of this conference was chosen to mark a new direction, through which we can see the future and its prospects, and adapt.
“The aims of this conference align clearly with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program, which has posed challenges to our universities to strive to achieve positions of global leadership,” he added, stating that the ambition of the program was to have at least five universities become part of the top 200 global education institutions by 2030.
The minister touched upon the aspirations of young Saudis, pointing to their digital literacy in everyday life, and indicating that the changes in higher education would have to revolve around a more technologically progressive curriculum.
He explained that the needs of the labor market would require a different approach from the traditional university educations of old, and that universities would need to adapt their degrees in order to remain relevant and to provide the required skills needed in rapidly changing industries. He called on all Saudi universities to reconsider their programs and strategies in order to keep pace with the changes, both those in the local economy and those of the neighboring Gulf states, and in the wider global economy.
Al-Asheikh also confirmed that a new university system would be announced soon, in an effort to reinvigorate and refocus the leadership at the top of Saudi higher education. The new system, he added, would look at the allocation of funding for various departments and projects, and how it might be redirected to help transform Saudi universities to become an integral part of the global educational elite.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Education of the UAE on the sidelines of the conference, to cooperate on the development of digital education systems in the two Gulf states. Several Saudi universities also signed twinning agreements with their Emirati counterparts.