What can universities do to produce qualified graduates who meet market needs?
It is not as simple as adding one or two courses; it is that every course needs to have theoretical and practical elements in it so we can connect and close the gap between the university and market needs. If we do not do so, the gap will increase as time goes by with the students from a freshman year to a senior year. If in every course the faculty connects the practical element to the theoretical element, it will truly be of benefit. This is a general theory, but adding a course or adding a program, a new program that really helps the market with its needs, is something that we try to do here. We looked at some of the programs that were not offered in the Kingdom as well as industry needs, and started designing from there. For example, operation and information management (OPIM) is something that explores the supply chain management, but entrepreneurship can help students learn how to create businesses, how to write a business plan, and how to look at the technical aspects. The industry needs this most, so we added it nine years ago and started looking at how graduates are doing in the market. Around 85% of our graduates from that department get employed immediately within six months. Our strategy from now on is not only adding courses and making sure that we connect to the market by doing market research, but also how to incorporate the practical elements, the field study, and the internship in order to close the gap.
How would you assess the measures the government is taking to boost the education sector in the country?
Over the last five or six years, the education sector got the lion's share of the whole budget. Of course, there is a financial strain that came to the Kingdom last year due to the decrease in the oil prices. Regardless, the government's commitment to education is there, and that it really calms everybody to know that education is a number-one priority, and we are working hard to increase the quality. The vision of the Kingdom is not only just to increase the number of people who will graduate from high school or from different universities, it is really to look at the quality of those graduates. The Minister canceled all distant learning studies programs because they did not give the right quality of higher education, the right knowledge, or the right skills to the students because it is just for one month. However, one of the things the government is now working on is the quality of education, such as establishing the Public Education Evaluation Commission for education in general for K-12 and higher education.
What are your goals and expectations for this university in the medium term and specifically in 2016?
I want to see this sector truly developed into the area of research. We always speak of the knowledge society, and now we want to create the knowledge society. A knowledge society does not only come about by educating people. Integrating education as a benefit to society makes a big difference. This not only comes from education, but research and the implementation of this research into the social and economic agenda. I see it as a means of prosperity for the whole country; if I want this sector to contribute more to the economy and the social fabric of society, we need to see this knowledge society happening. The main ingredient of the knowledge society is people who create ideas and helps solve problems. If we do not solve the problems we face, then it is not a knowledge society. We will do an energy program for 2016 for students who study petroleum engineering and renewable energy. We are also trying to offer a program in the 2016-2017 school year for the PhD program in business with Berkeley.