Crown Prince Sultan visits King Abdullah Economic City

Prince Sultan: Economic cities launched to act as investment hubs, activate private sector’s role

Report reviews Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ efforts to develop education & scientific research

Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General, said that the launching by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of grand economic cities in the Kingdom comes within his far-sighted vision so that they would become attracting points for international investments, consolidating domestic investments, activating the role of the private sector in achieving balanced development and creating a qualitative leap in the national economy and the process of creation of jobs for citizens. He lauded the promising projects witnessed by King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), including the great interest in training programs and qualification of Saudi workforce.

This came in written remarks by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz during a get-acquainted visit to King Abdullah Economic City.

In a key address during a speech ceremony held to mark the occasion, Amr Al-Dabbagh, the Governor of the Investment Authority reminded that the support rendered by the monarch, his crown prince and the second deputy premier for investment in the Kingdom enabled the country to occupy the first place in the Middle East and the 13th of the world in terms of competitiveness of investment environment in 2009, jumping from the 67th place in 2005, according to the World Bank reports.

He said Saudi Arabia also came first in the Middle East and the 14th of the world in terms of actual foreign capital flow for investment.

He expressed thanks for Dr. Abdulaziz Khoja, the Minister of Culture and Information, for establishing a media city inside King Abdullah Economic city.

For his part, Fahd bin Abdulmohsen Al-Rasheed, Executive President and Managing Director for King Abdullah Economic City said despite the ongoing international financial crisis, KAEC has overcome many obstacles and achieved important projects.

On the infrastructure of the city, he said phase I of the infrastructure for power, water and drainage networks were completed in a number of segments of the city. A number of residential units were also completed, he said, adding that a number of restaurants, commercial shops, an hotel, medical clinic, part of a school and conferences center were opened.

He added that the city has received applications from a number of foreign investors.

In his remarks, the Crown Prince expressed pleasure of the great projects, national initiatives, sincere interest in training of Saudi youths and the role of the private sector, including Saudi, Gulf and foreign companies, in making the city a reality.

He paid special tribute to the Saudi media for its coverage of the strenuous efforts exerted by different parties in the city project.

He called on all parties for cooperation to execute the vision and aspirations of the monarch.

The event was attended by a number of princes, and senior officials.

During the king’s rule, 24 government and nine private universities have been established. They provided higher education to some 1 million men and women and employed a teaching staff of 33,000 in 2009-2010. The king also established 34,000 schools for five million students. The schools employ 470,000 male and female teachers.

The king has laid foundation stones of the new universities in Jazan, Najran, Baha, Hail, Northern Border Province, Tabuk and Al-Jouf at a cost of SR5 billion in the first phase of these projects.

In 2009 he approved the establishment of four universities, one each in Al-Dammam, Al-Kharj, Shaqra and Al-Majma'ah. The general budget for the fiscal year 2010-2011 allocated more than SR3 billion for these universities.

With a view to promote women’s education, the king laid the foundation stone for Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University for women in 2008.

Saudi Arabia’s education is going through an important phase in its history as a result of the reforms introduced by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, to improve the country’s educational standard matching with its position in the comity of nations, the new education minister said.

Speaking to top officials at the ministry, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah said no compromise and negligence would be tolerated in the education sector. “We need more efforts in strengthening Saudi Arabia’s position by building brains and investing in humans,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted the minister as saying.

Prince Faisal, who was sworn in as the minister of education recently, thanked King Abdullah for putting his confidence in him. “I pray to the Almighty that He may help me to fulfill this trust in the best manner, realizing the hopes and aspirations of the Saudi leadership and people.”

Speaking about educational reforms, he said King Abdullah has allocated SR9 billion for a new general education development project, which is named after the king. “This project is being supported by Saudi and foreign experts,” he added.

King Abdullah had also allocated large amounts of money from surplus budgets to construct new schools. “A number of other development projects are also under way to overhaul the Kingdom’s education system to cope with global developments in the field,” the minister pointed out.

He said he would do whatever necessary to improve the performance of government schools.

Before meeting the officials, Prince Faisal, accompanied by deputy ministers Faisal bin Muammar and Khaled Al-Sabti, visited Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh and reviewed important aspects of Saudi education. The mufti praised the ministry’s efforts to bring about educational renaissance and wished the new ministers every success in their new roles.

The King Abdullah Project for the Development of Public Education has allocated SR4.2 billion to improve the educational environment and SR3.58 billion for extra-curricular activities.

The training and development of teachers is another thrust of the project and for this purpose SR2.94 billion has been set aside. A curriculum development program will receive SR980 million. Academics and other experts are working on the project’s executive plan, which will be ready shortly.

The project aims at helping the Kingdom keep pace with scientific and technological development and is devised making use of the successful experiments of countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, China, New Zealand, Finland, France, Ireland, Britain, Canada and the United States.

Some 1,700 male and female teachers and school administrators, representing 50 secondary schools Kingdom-wide ended their 15-day training course this week in preparation for launching Saudi Arabia’s most important educational revamp: the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Project for Developing Public Education (Tatweer). The training course took place in three different cities: Taif, Abha and Jeddah.

The Kingdom has allocated around SR9 billion for the Tatweer project and is planning to take education to new horizons to cope with transformations around the world. Teachers, students’ advisors and school principals take different courses that can enable them to deal with their students from different angles to help them succeed at all levels.

According to Abdulwahhab Al-Mikaimzi, chief of Public Relations in the Ministry, the project consists of four axes: developing teachers’ skills, developing curricula, enhancing school activities, and improving school environment.

“Four separate committees are working on these sides,” Mikaimzi said. He pointed out that the government has done its best to spread knowledge and science everywhere in the Kingdom. “This leadership is trying to develop education and is employing the latest possible technology to help build Saudi citizens at all levels. If education is a never-ending process, we believe that developing that education is a necessity,” Mikaimzi added.

“The new project aims to make students analyze and think to come up with solutions. A teacher’s role will be to just monitor the class and distribute roles among learners,” Ali Sambo, director of Educational Training Department at the Taif General Directorate of Education clarified. He added that teachers would now provide students with information sources either in libraries or online to make students carry on their own research. Sambo explained what new classrooms and school environment would look like: “Imagine that students are searching for a certain piece of information. The modernized classroom is divided into three groups. Group A is using computers to find that information, group B is reading books for the same purpose, and group C is writing what conclusions the two groups have found. This is what we want our students to do in their classrooms,” he explained.

Other committees are working on making model schools ready for hosting this project. “We want to have a very strong start since this will affect the whole project. We don’t want teachers and students to simply admire the project from afar, but we want students’ guardians to interact with them closely on the project, which will change the face of education in Saudi Arabia,” one of the officials added.

Dr. Naif Al-Roomi, head of the Tatweer project, stressed that the new 50 schools will reflect how our schools ought to be.

“Principals in these schools have no other choice but to succeed,” Al-Roomi said, adding that collective work is the secret for success.

Saudi Arabia spent some $15bn on educational development in 2007, mainly to fund existing and open new universities as part of a priority programme to develop higher education.

One of the most spectacular results is the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), due to open in 2009 on a 36 million square feet campus at Thuwal, 80 kilometres north of Jeddah on the Red Sea.

It has been designed as a centre of excellence to encourage greater interest in the sciences and will offer a range of studies including micro-technology, nano-technology, water conservation, biotechnology and IT.

Professor Choon Fong Shih, a world renowned engineer, has been appointed the first president of KAUST, which will have one of the biggest endowments of any university research institution in the world and is designed to forge connections with top researchers around the globe. Seven collaborative agreements have already been signed with foreign academic institutions.

Khaled Abdul Aziz Al-Faleh, VP for industrial affairs at Saudi Aramco, which has managed the university project says the aim at KAUST is to produce future pioneers in science and technology and promote the Kingdom's research and technological capabilities.

While creating a centre of excellence, the ambitious move also reflects the nation's broader efforts to develop human resources to cope with the needs of diversified economic growth.

There is an urgent need to expand the skills base since the Kingdom's educational structure has up to now not kept pace with economic demands. Many jobs are held by expatriates with the result that there is a high level of unemployment of around 11 per cent among young Saudis.

Traditionally the government has provided jobs but bureaucracy is being steadily overhauled with the result that state jobs are likely to become fewer as the private sector increasingly becomes the main driver of economic activity in Saudi Arabia.

Even when Saudi Arabia's new economic cities are completed 80 per cent of employees are likely to be foreigners, though the long term plan is to reduce this number to just 30 per cent says Fahd Al-Rashed deputy governor of Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority.

In a recent study, the Swiss-based World Economic Forum stated: "Ensuring that highly qualified Saudi workers with relevant skill sets are available in an innovative economy is crucial to the country, in reducing national unemployment and the economy's current reliance on foreign labour."