World's Largest University Gives Saudi Women Hope for Change






By Siraj Wahab
http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article406052.ece


Saudi women educators and professionals were upbeat about the opening on Sunday, May 15, of Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) in Riyadh and took it as a sign that women may start to assume a more active role in the Kingdom’s development.


Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah inaugurated the SR20 billion university, 25 km east of the Saudi capital, amid cheers of over 2,000 students and faculty members. With a capacity to enroll about 50,000 students, the PNU is the largest women-only university in the world and part of an ambitious education plan of the Saudi government. The university's residential area has about 1,400 villas and its massive hostel facilities to accommodate 12,000 students. The sprawling campus sits on a site that exceeds 800 hectares.

“I hope it will lead to a massive turnaround in the fortunes of Saudi women,” said Dr. Aisha Almana, founder of Alkhobar’s Mohammed Almana College of Health Sciences. “However, universities of the world are not known by their physical structure — they attain status and credibility by what they produce. I mean a university is known by the quality of its graduates. I hope the new university will be a trendsetter. We all know that women constitute 50 percent of the Saudi population. Recent statistics, at least those from University of Dammam, indicate that there are more women graduates than men. Meaning women are more aware of the need for education. They are equal partners in the development and progress of this great nation.”

Almana said Saudi Arabia should concentrate on making its people productive. “Oil is here today, and it may not be here tomorrow. Look at Japan; they had no natural resources, but it is one of most robust economies in the world — just by the sheer power of their people. We should focus on investing in human capital. It is our people who will take us far. We should concentrate on creating excellent human resources. People are our greatest asset, and we should nurture them.”


Jeddah broadcaster and newspaper columnist Samar Fatany said the new university should be a source of pride for the Kingdom.

“It has bright prospects,” Fatany told Arab News. “It will inspire the young generation of Saudi women. Hopefully it will bring in a new trend of positive thinking and produce a new group of educated women who will eventually assume leadership positions in their respective fields. We need such universities to help us excel. The new university will help our women to compete with the best women in the world and create healthy competition within the various universities in the Kingdom. It will raise the benchmark of education.”

“First and foremost it indicates Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s support for women,” said writer and physician Dr. Samia Amoudi. “This is a big step in the empowerment of Saudi women. It is also significant that it is named after Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman who is the sister of the king. “For such a large, prestigious project to be named after a woman is an honor for all of us. It will have a great impact on society and how it perceives us women. I am very happy that our leadership is aware of our needs. They have placed their trust in us.”

“Now it’s the turn and the responsibility of the women of our Kingdom to ensure that this university attains a high rank in the world and the Middle East in particular,” said Jubail teacher Huda Al-Shehri. “This university is the first of its kind dedicated exclusively to women. It offers courses that are not traditional or conventional in nature. These courses are more in line with the needs of the job market.”

Almana agreed.

“It is my conviction that we should follow the India model. Immediately after attaining independence, they concentrated on professional courses rather than humanities and arts,” she said. “The recent turnaround in India is a result of that paradigm shift in education. I recently came back from Bangalore and saw the transformation myself. We should similarly focus on professional studies.”


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