Science and technology in Saudi Arabia
As a region sometimes encumbered by its detractors’ claims of antiquated nations decades behind the rest of the world, the Middle East is rising above its critics and proving itself to be a forerunner in a wide range of innovative subjects, including both science and technology.
Saudi Arabia is one of the Arab countries at the forefront of this modernisation. It is a country that currently has 12% of its total government budget dedicated to upgrading its higher education system, arguably the highest level of funding in the world. The kingdom is now working towards being a centre of research excellence. One by-product of this goal is the development of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), an independent scientific organisation that is essentially the country’s national science agency and reports directly to the Saudi Arabian Prime Minister. KACST is primarily concerned with proposing, developing and implementing strategies for the advancement of science and technology within and beyond the nation. In addition to this they also conduct applied research and provide advice to the government.
It is this environment of advancement and research that directly fosters an excellent background for science and technology education throughout Saudi Arabia. What better place to study than in a country dedicated to improving its grasp of and impact upon these subjects?
Several universities in Saudi Arabia have syllabuses dedicated solely to science and technology. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) was formed in 2009 and focuses exclusively on graduate study and research. By 2020 KAUST aims to be included within the world’s top ten science and technology universities with research set to a global standard. The institution has already forged over twenty academic partnerships with leading universities such as Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. KAUST’s core campus, situated in Thuwal, boasts state-of-the-art facilities including an on-site marine sanctuary, the fastest supercomputer in the Middle East and laboratories equipped to support a diverse range of study from nanofabrication and biotechnology to electronics and photonics. Research centres focus on issues such as computational bioscience, advanced membranes and porous materials, solar and alternative energy engineering and also localised concerns relating to the nearby Red Sea.
Alfaisal University in Riyadh is a non-profit research university with links to KACST, Harvard University, Oxford University and MIT, and offers science degrees which pay particular attention to biotechnology. King Saud University (KSU)’s College of Science offers a more diverse choice of degrees relating to many branches of science including biochemistry, enzymology, bioenergetics, chemical thermodynamics, quantum chemistry and geophysics. As is common with many Saudi Arabian universities KSU also hosts its own Centre of Excellence in Science, the main objective of which is the development of innovative programmes which aim to connect both students and teachers on all levels of research.
King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) is not as specific an institution as its title would suggest - it runs degree programmes ranging from physics and chemistry to geology and geophysics. KFUPM also hosts its own Centres of Excellence including a Centre of Excellence in Nanotechnology (CENT). CENT’s objectives are varied and are dedicated to allowing students of the university to collaborate with scientists to help assist in their research. Currently the members of CENT are involved in the research of catalysis and photo-catalysis technology which, when completed, could be applied to the cleaning of gas and other fuels and also water purification. There is also a research group developing nanostructured materials for application as chemical sensors and a centre dedicated to the development of renewable energy technology. In addition to this, Honeywell UOP, a leading international supplier and licensor of petrochemical production, has announced that it will collaborate with KFUPM in the development of catalytic processes in the production of petrochemicals, allowing university professors and researchers to work alongside the company’s scientists.
Universities across Saudi Arabia appreciate and respect the great need and importance of research in the fields of science and technology. Almost 4% of global research papers now come from the Middle East, a figure that has almost doubled since the beginning of the new millennium. Saudi Arabia itself is responsible for almost 90% of this research. It is this country-wide emphasis on research that engenders a perfect learning environment for graduates across the academic field, making Saudi Arabia an ideal choice for students of science and technology.