What are some of Taif University's main strengths?
Our location is one of our key strengths; Taif is one of the historical centers of Arab culture. It hosted the annual Souk Okaz, where poets and merchants came together thousands of years ago. This tradition was revived in 2005 when Taif University—only a few years old—hosted and arranged a cultural program that has been associated with Souk Okaz. We have continued with this tradition, and in 2017, we won an award for best national partner from the National Commission of Tourism and National Heritage. Although we focus on Arab cultures, studies, and history, we also have different colleges, from art, science, computer science, and engineering to medical sciences and pharmacy. Our Colleges of Engineering as well as Computers and Information Technology were accredited by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology to be included in the international arena. We also recently signed a contract with the National Centre for Evaluation & Accreditation in Saudi Arabia to complete the accreditation cycle for the university. With this, we will be the first of the new universities to be accredited nationally. Though we have 70,000 students and three branches, Taif University is a young institution in terms of its people and faculty. We have almost 600 Saudi faculty and academic staff members and more than 30-35% of them are under 40, making our staff extremely energetic and dynamic. Taif University is unique in its ability to move fast in response to developments around us.
What is the university's role in shaping the urban structure of New Taif?
The university is central to New Taif, though the new project for Taif University has been on hold due to the economic circumstances. The Ministry of Finance felt the SAR4 billion (USD1.07 billion) expenditure on a University Town was too high. We came up with a new proposal for the government with a SAR2.8 billion (USD747.2 million) budget and subsequently received approval from the Ministry of Finance to start construction. We also actively think about how the university can generate revenue. The entire area of the campus is around 9 million sqm, and we are currently in talks with large real estate and development companies because the new university campus requires entertainment facilities, a mall, and a convention center, which the university will not build. We can allocate the land and work with developers. We also recently established the Taif University Investment Fund, which is close to the investment community, and our land can be marketed accordingly to attract investment for the new campus.
What short-term courses do you offer outside of the standard curriculum?
We have a project called Taif Summer Academy, an elite program in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects to be held in summer alongside English studies. We decided to partner with Oxford College and ID Tech for this program. Saudi Arabians tend to send their children to summer camps outside the country; however, we wanted to offer the same level of education within the country. We also aim to attract foreign students with our new unit for teaching Arabic and culture for non-Arabic speakers. In Saudi Arabia, there are four centers that teach Arabic as a foreign language; however, they are all purely for academic purposes. We have invested in educational tourism and established this unit not for academic purposes, but rather to combine a short one-month course with exploring Taif. We have started to publicize this and have received over 20 applicants thus far from diplomats and so on to join our first open program in July 2018. We expect great demand for this. The first completed project in the New Taif campus is the dorm, which can host over 2,500 students, so we already have the residence for our international students.