INTERVIEW: ‘Women’s empowerment is happening and heartfelt,’ says Saudi university head Einas Al-Eisa

INTERVIEW: ‘Women’s empowerment is happening and heartfelt,’ says Saudi university head Einas Al-Eisa
Einas Al-Eisa
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Updated 03 February 2020

INTERVIEW: ‘Women’s empowerment is happening and heartfelt,’ says Saudi university head Einas Al-Eisa

INTERVIEW: ‘Women’s empowerment is happening and heartfelt,’ says Saudi university head Einas Al-Eisa
  • “I’m leaving Davos convinced that we’re heading in the right direction.”: Al-Eisa
  • Recently the World Bank rated Saudi Arabia as the leading country in the world in terms of fostering female equality

If any of the aspirational young women of Saudi Arabia need a role model, they should look no further than Einas Al-Eisa, the rector of the Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh.

I caught up with her at Davos last week, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), where she told me one of the most inspiring and heartwarming stories I have ever heard. She was reluctant at first to go “on the record” about her family history, but finally agreed, not least because I insisted. It was too good a story to leave untold.

“Let me tell you something personal. I’m a second-generation female doctor of philosophy. My mum went to the first school ever to open for girls in Saudi Arabia, and she continued to go all the way to be a university professor. She was able to pursue her dream in Saudi Arabia, and became a history scholar. I’m 15 years on from my PhD, in anatomy and neurobiology, in Canada,” she said.

“Now my daughter is doing engineering. That just tells you all the evidence of the amount of empowerment and accelerating change in the Kingdom. Change is real, happening and heartfelt. We really have a good story to tell the world,” she said while in Saudi Arabia’s headquarters overlooking the snowy Congress Hall of the WEF.

Princess Nourah University — or PNU as Al-Eisa calls it — is the biggest female academic institution in the world, with 35,000 students spread across 8 million square meters in the Saudi capital in 600 buildings. It grew out of the College of Education opened in 1970, and is named after the sister of King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of the Kingdom.

Her job carries a huge responsibility. “It’s a big challenge, not just for me, but globally. Empowering women is a challenge worldwide,” she said.

She, and the Kingdom, are rising to that challenge. Recently the World Bank rated Saudi Arabia as the leading country in the world in terms of fostering female equality, after a raft of measures to give women essential rights to education, employment and mobility. A new generation of women — like her daughter — is growing up in the Kingdom, increasingly self-confident of their place in Saudi Arabia and in the world, under the Vision 2030 strategy to transform the country.

Al-Eisa is an enthusiastic supporter of the changes, and dismisses suggestions that some of the more conservative parts of the Saudi demographic oppose them.

“Let me take a step back, and talk about the transformation. It’s about opening new sectors that will build the capacity of society as a whole — the quality of life, health, education, job opportunity, economic development — so that we can develop sectors like entertainment, culture, and technology.

BIO

BORN:

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

EDUCATION:

Doctorate in anatomy and neuroscience, Dalhousie University, Canada

Harvard University Professional Development Programs, US

CAREER:

Dean, Department of Science and Medical Studies, King Saud University

Vice-dean, College of Nursing, Saudi Arabia

Rector, Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University

“These are all perfect opportunities for the whole of society to engage in, and now with the rate of enrolment of women in the private sector increasing from 19 percent to 23 percent in just one year, that reflects the engagement of the whole of society. As a university, we study this progress, the implementation of the policies, and the impact of the reforms,” she said.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the big changes underway in the Kingdom is the trend for women to study what have traditionally been regarded as exclusively male domains — science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM disciplines. Of the 5,200 who graduated from PNU last year, 1,400 came from STEM faculties.

“I predict a huge contribution from women in that sector in the very near future. One good story that comes from Saudi Arabia is the increased number of women engaging in the technology sectors, for example, versus the drop we see worldwide. Elsewhere women are moving away from these fields, whereas in the Kingdom, the number is going up constantly,” she said.

Education in the Kingdom remains segregated in terms of gender, but she does not think that is a significant or fundamental issue. In the West and in other parts of the world, co-education is the norm, but there have been many serious academic studies that have questioned the benefits of mixed-sex education. She is in no hurry to push for co-education in Saudi Arabia, on grounds of academic pragmatism, rather than any moral or ethical issues.

“If you go back to the literature and look at the assessment of the value of women studying in a campus of only women, there is enough global evidence to support the value of women-only education, in a women’s environment. There is enough evidence out there, but still it is a source of debate,” she said.

“Women are less intimidated in the fields of technology and engineering when they are taught in a safe environment. The way we are tackling that is to ensure that women have the best educators, the best learning opportunities, the best curricula, irrespective of gender,” she said.

Many of the faculty staff are male, she pointed out, so the young women studying at the university are not completely segregated. “We have male and female teachers in PNU, and we will continue to support more women in academia, in engineering especially, as faculty staff, and as engineers in the field. We will continue to empower women and I guarantee they are not isolated,” she said.

The crucial issue is what young women do after graduation. The Vision 2030 reform strategy envisages a big increase in the female workforce, rising to as much as 30 percent over the next decade. Recent statistics show that the Kingdom is well on the way to reaching that target, with 23.5 percent of the private sector workforce being female, according to official figures.

But for Al-Eisa, it is not just a simple matter of meeting official quotas. Again, she takes an academically pragmatic view.

“Just like it should be everywhere else in the world, it’s the competency of the graduates that dictates where they go. We have a very good story in the health sector — nearly 40 percent of people working in health are female, reflecting the parity and the power we have achieved after investing so much in health and education,” she said.

PNU works closely with INSEAD, the French management institute, to ensure that young women graduating from the university are equipped with the skills to get them jobs in increasingly competitive managerial professions.

She also works with the Ministry of Education in its “Women Leaders 2030” program that nurtures young women to become business leaders in the private sector. The ministry’s work is closely coordinated with the UN’s sustainable development goals which also align with Vision 2030.

“It’s very important to produce holistic leaders, women who understand the challenges and bigger issues in the wider world,” she said.

Her visit to the WEF has certainly opened her eyes to the bigger picture. All the issues that concerned her back in Saudi Arabia were also on the WEF agenda, she said, and she was “pleasantly surprised” that Davos was not all about money and economics.

“I come from the education sector, and I thought there will not be much for me in Davos, but there is so much going on, in investment, in education, in new opportunities, in skills development, science, science breakthroughs. I was impressed by the wide array of topics discussed and the caliber of discussions,” she said.

She will leave Switzerland with a new set of ideas to further promote the role of women in Saudi Arabia.

“The session on Education 4.0 was a very good exchange of ideas, and made me think how Saudi Arabia must invest even more in the infrastructure of education, curriculum development, teachers’ preparation programs and the rest.

“It’s time now to experiment with more disruptions in education. I’ve learned new ideas about education and I’m going home with the conviction that we’re heading in the right direction. Now when we talk about concepts like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and data science, these are new programs that are opening up for all women. This is the language of the world, not just for Saudi Arabia,” she said.


Tesla to accept bitcoin again when greener

Tesla to accept bitcoin again when greener
Updated 34 min 40 sec ago

Tesla to accept bitcoin again when greener

Tesla to accept bitcoin again when greener
  • Bitcoin are produced by powerful computers that have to solve equations and consume huge amounts of electricity in the process

NEW YORK: Elon Musk, CEO of electric vehicle maker Tesla, said on Sunday that the US company will accept bitcoin payments again when the virtual currency is greener.
The American manufacturer caused a sensation in February when it announced that customers could pay in cryptocurrency, an option that became possible at the end of March.
But then Musk changed his mind, indicating that bitcoin were no longer accepted — in the interest of protecting the environment.
“When there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50 percent) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend, Tesla will resume allowing Bitcoin transactions,” the billionaire wrote on Twitter Sunday.
Bitcoin are produced by powerful computers that have to solve equations and consume huge amounts of electricity in the process.
The science journal Nature recently published a study showing that China’s bitcoin mines, which power nearly 80 percent of the world’s cryptocurrency trade and run in part from coal-fired power plants, risk jeopardizing the country’s climate goals.
Musk on Sunday reacted to an article raising the possibility that with his tweets, which regularly move the value of bitcoin in one direction or another, he is manipulating market prices for the benefit of his business.
“This is inaccurate,” he said. “Tesla only sold ~10 percent of holdings to confirm BTC could be liquidated easily without moving market.
The US automaker announced in early February that it had invested $ 1.5 billion of its ample cash in bitcoin and has since sold part of it.


Dubai’s yachts offer socially-distanced luxury

Dubai’s yachts offer socially-distanced luxury
Updated 40 min 22 sec ago

Dubai’s yachts offer socially-distanced luxury

Dubai’s yachts offer socially-distanced luxury
  • Charter companies said they have seen an increased interest in yachting after coronavirus measures eased, especially among those who want to spend time with friends and family

DUBAI: Dubai earned a reputation for delivering luxury for those with cash to splash years ago, but amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a new mode of travel has become popular — yachts.
“It’s more private, you’re with only family and friends, and it’s the ideal outing during a pandemic,” said Nada Naeem, a 36-year-old Saudi citizen living in Dubai.
Dozens of white yachts are seen every day zipping through the emirate’s bays, canals and islands, while others are docked along the coast in Gulf waters overlooking the skyline of high-rise towers.
“You feel like you can breathe,” Naeem said, adding that she had not left Dubai since the pandemic began last year. “It’s like you’ve traveled.”
Unlike so many parts of the world, Dubai opened its doors wide open to tourists just a few months after the coronavirus pandemic took hold last year.
Life in the Gulf emirate — one of the first destinations to welcome visitors again last July — returned to largely normal, with restaurants and hotels up and running and beaches open to the public.
The UAE, made up of seven emirates including Dubai, launched an energetic vaccination drive with some of the highest inoculation rates worldwide, and continues to enforce strict rules on wearing masks and social distancing.
But some are fearful of overseas travel, and wary of crowded places where the risk of catching COVID-19 is higher.
For those who can afford the price tag, yachts are seen as a safer bet.
“When they eased the lockdown ... people preferred something secure and safe with regulations,” said Mohammed Al-Sayyed, manager of Royal Star Yachts charter company.
“We are providing them with the proper customer service, following all the rules, sanitizing the yacht.”
For now, yachts are allowed to operate at 70 percent capacity.
The company has a fleet that includes a 141-foot (42-meter) yacht able to host 80 passengers at full capacity — if you can afford the $4,900 price for a three-hour cruise.
Charter companies said they have seen an increased interest in yachting after coronavirus measures eased, especially among those who want to spend time with friends and family.
“People want to do sightseeing, cruising,” said Sayyed, who has been in the yacht industry for eight years. “They want to relax.”
Cheaper yachts to hire include the company’s 90-foot “Big Daddy” — capable of normally carrying 65 people, at $1,225 for three hours — down to smaller boats.
Some in Dubai said that when the price was split between a group, the cost was not as steep as it seemed at first.
“It can actually be more affordable than an all-inclusive brunch at a restaurant,” said Naeem.
And while some groups have been busted by authorities flouting the rules and slapped with hefty fines, most excursions run smoothly.
Sayyed insisted his company follows all the rules and that even on the most luxurious “party yachts,” there are COVID-19 regulations still in place, including the need for passengers to socially distance from each other and wear masks.
Dubai, known for its skyscrapers and mega-projects, boasts the most diverse economy in the oil-reliant Gulf region and has built a reputation as a financial, commercial and tourism hub.
Tourism, which drew some 16 million visitors a year before the coronavirus hit, took a severe downturn in the first few months of the pandemic.
But a flood of arrivals since the beginning of the year has regenerated the industry, and helped many business activities recover.
Other yacht charter companies report an increase in demand for rentals in recent months.
And being out at sea doesn’t mean the guests must skimp on takeaway food or drinks. Jet skis and speed boats are on standby — for an extra fee — to take orders and deliver groceries from shore to ship.
“To go on a boat is as simple as being outdoors and being away from strangers, gathering with only those you trust,” said Palestinian Jeelan Herz, who has lived in the UAE for more than 30 years.
“It’s also something you can enjoy safely with children — go to the middle of the ocean, take part in water activities and take a nice dip.”


Kuwait’s economy contracted by 9.9% in 2020

Kuwait’s economy contracted by 9.9% in 2020
Updated 47 min 33 sec ago

Kuwait’s economy contracted by 9.9% in 2020

Kuwait’s economy contracted by 9.9% in 2020
DUBAI: Kuwait’s gross domestic product contracted 9.9 percent in 2020, compared with growth of 0.4 percent in 2019, mainly because of last year’s sharp drop in oil prices, state news agency KUNA reported on Sunday.
Kuwait, which makes half its revenues from oil, had its finances squeezed by an oil price crash and by the COVID-19 pandemic, while a draft law that would allow it to tap international debt has stalled amid disagreement between successive parliaments and cabinets.
The International Monetary Fund estimated in April that Kuwait’s GDP contracted 8 percent in 2020.
KUNA based its report on Central Bank of Kuwait’s governor, Mohammad Al-Hashel, who cited preliminary estimates and statistics and said the institution used all the tools available to it to blunt the pandemic’s impact.
He said preliminary estimates and statistics also showed the headline inflation rate increased to about 2.1 percent in 2020 from about 1.1 percent in 2019.
Kuwait’s population, which mostly comprises expatriate workers and their families, declined by 2.2 percent in 2020 after growing 3.3 percent in 2019.
Sources told Reuters in April that Kuwait has reached an agreement with state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corporation under which the company will pay the government billions in accrued dividends, part of government efforts to cover the deficit.

Oil holds near multi-year highs amid demand recovery

Oil holds near multi-year highs amid demand recovery
Updated 50 min 35 sec ago

Oil holds near multi-year highs amid demand recovery

Oil holds near multi-year highs amid demand recovery
  • The OPEC+ group has been restraining production to support prices after the pandemic wiped out demand in 2020

TOKYO: Oil prices held near multi-year highs on Monday, underpinned by an improved outlook for demand as increased COVID-19 vaccinations help lift travel curbs.
Brent crude was up 14 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $72.83 by 0123 GMT. It rose 1.1 percent last week and hit the highest since May 2019 of $73.09 on Friday.
US West Texas Intermediate was also up 14 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $71.05 a barrel, after reaching the highest since October 2018 at $71.24 on Friday and rising 1.9 percent on the week.
Vehicle traffic is returning to pre-pandemic levels in North America and much of Europe and more planes are in the air as lockdowns and other restrictions are being eased, driving three weeks of gains for the oil benchmarks.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, known as OPEC+, need to increase output to meet recovering demand, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its monthly report on Friday.
The OPEC+ group has been restraining production to support prices after the pandemic wiped out demand in 2020.
“OPEC+ needs to open the taps to keep the world oil markets adequately supplied,” the IEA said.
Goldman Sachs said last week it expects Brent to rise to $80 per barrel this summer as the rollout of inoculations boosts economic activity around the world.
US oil rigs rose by six to 365, the highest since April 2020, energy services company Baker Hughes Co. said in its weekly report.
It was the biggest weekly increase of oil rigs in a month, as drilling companies sought to benefit from rising demand.


Germany to set up hydrogen accord with Australia

Germany to set up hydrogen accord with Australia
Updated 14 June 2021

Germany to set up hydrogen accord with Australia

Germany to set up hydrogen accord with Australia
  • Germany’s €9 billion hydrogen strategy launched last summer is based on the assumption that some 80 percent of its hydrogen requirements may have to be imported in the long term

FRANKFURT: Germany on Sunday said it has taken steps toward a bilateral alliance on hydrogen production and trade with Australia to try and facilitate a renewable energy-based hydrogen supply chain between the countries. 

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier and Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek signed a letter of intent to set up a “Germany Australia Hydrogen Accord” with Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor, the Economy Ministry said in a press release. It said the cooperation was about enabling “the import of sustainably produced hydrogen in relevant volumes, which is an important factor to reach our tighter climate targets.” Australia wants to develop a clean hydrogen and ammonia production chain to cut carbon, depart from fossil fuels and build up new export markets, Taylor said in an interview in May.

The two countries can take advantage of Australia’s limitless solar resources and employ German electrolysis technology, said Altmaier.

Karliczek said her ministry will fund a technology incubator called HyGate with €50 million ($60.53 million) over three years to test technologies from production through to storage and transport. Germany’s €9 billion hydrogen strategy launched last summer is based on the assumption that some 80 percent of its hydrogen requirements may have to be imported in the long term.