The Business Year

Dr. Husam Ben Abdulwahab Zaman

SAUDI ARABIA - Health & Education

A Special Place

President, Taif University

Bio

Dr. Husam Ben Abdulwahab Zaman holds an MA and PhD in administration and policy studies from the University of Pittsburgh. Since July 2016 he has been serving as President of Taif University and as director general of the UNESCO Regional Center for Quality and Excellence in Education (RCQE). Prior to that he was Director of Saudi Electronic University’s Medina Campus, and held other prominent positions at Taibah University, including founding dean of the College of Law and vice-director of the Legal Office. His affiliations include the UNESCO International Task Force on Teachers as a steering committee member, the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States as chairperson of regional prize committee, the UNESCO International Institute of Statistics as advisory board member, and the NCAAA in Saudi Arabia as an external reviewer.

“The number of students has expanded throughout the years, from around 1,200 to 70,000 today.“

The university was established in 2003. How has it evolved over the last 14 years and what have been some of the milestones in that period?

Taif University was established as a branch of Umm Al-Qura University, and it has grown ever since and expanded as an independent university. It was originally two colleges: the College of Education and the College of Science. Now we have 19 colleges at the university in various disciplines, from medicine to liberal arts and everything in between. We also have three branches outside Taif in various small districts nearby, in Khurma, Taraba, and Ranya. The number of students has expanded throughout the years, from around 1,200 to 70,000 today. We are the biggest institution in Taif, be it public or private, and this is important for the development of the city. We think that a university in a region like Taif has a different role to play compared to universities in other cities or regions. We consider ourselves as the center of civilization and modernization of this city and surrounding districts. It is about education, introducing new ideas and arts, and introducing new ways of doing business and economics.

To what extent is your focus on making Taif University more of a regional and international institution to draw in students and faculty members from all around the Kingdom and abroad?

This is the ultimate goal. Taif has a lot of advantages, such as great climate and the best weather in the country, as well as proximity to places like Mecca, Medina, and Jeddah. We have a new project with the Commission of Tourism called Summer at Taif. It is a program in which we invite students from other universities in Saudi Arabia, the GCC, and around the world, to come and spend two months in Taif over summer, to study courses and subjects in Arabic, Islamic Studies, Arabic Culture, and visit historic places around Taif. It is an ambitious program. Last December, I visited the National University of UAE in Al Ain and we reached an initial agreement on an exchange program. It is invested heavily in summer programs for students outside of the UAE, and many Emiratis who come to Taif, preferring the conservative environment here. We offer those students an educational opportunity during their time in Taif. Part of the program is studying Arabic for three months in Taif. In the Kingdom, we have foreigner Arabic learning centers in Medina, Mecca, and Riyadh, with everything from beginner’s level to advanced learning. Medina and Mecca have been attracting a lot of Muslim students coming to study Arabic and Islamic Studies in Umm Al-Qura University and other places, including many Malaysians and Indonesians. As for non-Muslim students who want to study Arabic, which is becoming a trend in many institutions and universities around the world, their only opportunity is to go to Riyadh, which is very hot in summer and that may not be a desirable feature for a destination. So we want to target this group of people who want to study Arabic but cannot go to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina as non-Muslims. In order to do so, we have been working to bring more non-Muslims here to study Arabic. Our efforts were fruitful with a visit from the different Consulates exploring opportunities for international students to come to TU.

Privatization is on the agenda of the education sector. What do you make of this trend, and do you see an opportunity for private investors to contribute to the sector in general, or Taif in particular?

My specialty is in quality of education, measuring it, and looking at KPIs and benchmarks. I believe that privatization is one of the most important methods to improve the quality and efficiency of education. The public fund is huge in education in Saudi Arabia. In recent years, it has become the number one in terms of expenditure. But you cannot see the effects of that in terms of quality, and I think the reason is that it is not privatized yet. Privatization will streamline educational methods and improve overall quality standards. People going to privatized universities will get to appreciate what is going on, they will see the difference, and will see that they are getting what they paid for. Privatization is a whole package. Before privatization, we unified the whole system. We used to have two different ministries: the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. Now they have been unified into a single ministry. We also now have the polytechnic colleges under that ministry. We need to formalize and have a strategic vision for the whole sector, not just for parts of it. In TU, we used to have different colleges and four polytechnic colleges around Taif. People wanted only to go to the university to get a BA, but not the polytechnics. Only the people who could not get into the university went to the polytechnics. We now have formed a joint strategy and program to make sure that the 20,000 or so graduates all have the best option to pursue an education, because not all of those students need to go to university, many could go to the polytechnic for their interests and needs. So we filter students according to their capabilities and the needs of the region and the country in accordance with Vision 2030 and the National Plan. Let us take the tourism market in Taif as an example. There is no doubt that the tourism market in Taif is blooming and that requires the need for hospitality graduates, for which you do not need a BA or a university degree.

What are your expectations for 2017?

For 2017 we have a reform plan in motion for programs at our university. We did a program transformation for many of our 44 programs. We have funded this ourselves, supported by our investment fund, and we are reviewing all our programs in terms of quality standards and market needs. We used to have a preparatory year where students take general courses in English, mathematics, and some communicative skills. But we found out that instead of having this at the beginning of their university studies, a vertical and integrated process would be the best way to go. For example, students, in some programs, were studying English in the first year, and then completing the rest of their program in Arabic which will definitely result in forgetting all their English by the time they graduate. In order to avoid that, we verticalized the program so that they could study English throughout all their university years. We are also shifting toward more online programs, and we are also aiming at increasing the percentage of international students on our campus. We currently have a very small number of international students because we didn’t have a dorm before. Our aim is to reach a 10% full-time international student population by 2020 and attract people from all over the world.

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