How do your schools fit in the educational landscape of the Kingdom?
KEN HAWICK We sit halfway between universities and the other colleges because we are the only college that solely provides higher education. In some ways, we resemble a small university. Previously, we were known as the Technical Trainers College (TTC) primarily training teachers for vocational training. Now, as AEC, we provide bachelor degrees in engineering in ICT, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. The goal is to help young Saudis become engineers or technical managers.
AHMAD SHOWAIL We teach intensive programs in cybersecurity, a field which is bound to witness important growth because of the huge demand in the market, especially following the 2012 cyber attacks on Saudi Aramco. It is difficult to retain employees in the cybersecurity field because they are always getting offers and jumping from one place to another. The Ministry of Defense and some companies give students job offers before they have even graduated. Our program seeks to involve students with IT and basic computer skills in the first two years. Then, in the next two years, we provide them with hands-on experiences in cybersecurity, teaching them how to be ethical hackers. It is expertise that many companies now are looking for. To be a great defender, you have to know how an attacker thinks. That is exactly the mentality we want to instill in our students. Anything online is hackable, but what we do as cybersecurity professionals is make the hacker's job harder. It can be a two-hour job or a two-year job, and it depends on your defenses and countermeasures, as well as the precautions you take. No matter what you do, if you do not think like a hacker, you will not be able to defend yourself. As for Saudi specifically, we are working on a new AI program that will be one of the first in the Kingdom. We do it because we see that the market is in need of graduates skilled in big data. We teach them how to use AI as a tool to help business owners make decisions.
What are some changes or challenges you anticipate?
KH There is a cultural change happening in universities. In the past, students chose extremely general disciplines, but today employers ask for more specific backgrounds. We offer these competency and skills-based programs. We offer programs in network communications, software engineering, and information engineering. We need to keep an eye on current developments and what should come next. We are seeing interesting problems develop, like hacking attacks on different websites. The IT infrastructure in the Kingdom needs careful attention to make sure it is not being hacked by terrorists or foreigners. Cybersecurity is a deeply important area. We have a new program focusing on Saudi specifically.
AS Advancement in technology is indeed changing the way we deliver education and do business with our customers. For example, last semester, we taught a course in collaboration with the University of Illinois's faculty of computer science in full synchronization. That meant the faculty members there were teaching our students, while our faculty here were teaching their students. As for challenges, CISCO is forecasting that there will be 75 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2025, forming what is called the IoT. There are two main challenges along with it. The first one, from a cybersecurity perspective, is that these devices are not secure. If you have a massive number of devices that are connected, even if they are as simple as location or humidity sensors, they do not have encryption or security features. That is because they are using cheap hardware, so their processing capabilities are very basic. As a result, these IoT devices can be easily compromised. A second challenge is the lack of a sufficient number of IP addresses for all the internet-enabled devices.