What are your activities in relation to your mandate to set standards in higher education and quality control?
Our main goal is to drive excellence all over the higher educational institutes, and to help universities to improve their performance in a continuous way up to the international levels. Towards this end we build a new set of accreditation standards that response to the immediate and far needs which are outcome-driven rather being a process driven as before. The new accreditation standards are impactful, economic, flexible, and scalable. NCAAA does not work as inspection agency yet, it helps the universities and faculty to build up their capacities and improve their caliber for continuous improvement. We provide training, consultations, and versatile range of support to all types of universities including those established 50 years ago and more, a middle section 20-30 year-old, and the newly established one. Our accreditation standards concern about two major domains namely institutional capacity and the educational effectiveness.
Education is considered a major pillar under Vision 2030. What does that mean for NCAAA?
It means a lot, where Vision 2030 requires a skillful, impactful manpower, which is directly related to education and training, which is the core business of NCAAA. All the educational institutions, and their academic activities must be aligned and coordinated in a suitable frame that serves vision 2030. There is a clear shift in student preparation and evaluation from knowledge to competences including the soft and future skills necessary for 2030. The future is rapidly changing and the labour market and the needed jobs and professions in the future is totally different from those of today, and we must be ready, and quickly respondent through student preparation which all serves the vision.
How does the NCAAA meet international benchmarks and to what extent is it collaborating with foreign partners to do so?
We meet the international benchmarking on several levels including the individualized work on one hand, through the international experts we cooperate with them in training and in external review of institutions, and on the institutional levels on the other hand where most of our work such as the accreditation standards are subject to international evaluation. Moreover, many memorandum of understanding are in place with many international bodies such as Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) in the area of accrediting IT and engineering programs, as well as many others in the area of medical education. We are a member in ANQAHEE, Council for higher education accreditation (CHEA), and working on obtaining a full membership from INQAHEE. This -in turns- will reflect on Saudi universities where we have five universities are included in the top 500 universities in the world ranking, and planning to have five on the top 200. Saudi universities now are the best in the Arab world.
How do you envision increasing the amount of research done in the country and what are some of the ways it will be funded moving forward?
The amount of research is one of many other concerns and interests where the added value of the produced research, its impact on improving the reality, helping to shift into knowledge society and building the knowledge economy are serious issues we are working on. The newly developed accreditation standards included a complete standard on scientific research and innovation, and we start preparing a specific indicator for this standard to be able to calculate the international indicator, to which the performance of each university could be compared. A proposal for ranking the universities based on scientific research regarding productivity, creativity, applicability is under consideration. Having the link between the scientific research and its applicability will change the funding map and landscape where the industrial institutions will accelerate in funding the good research and this itself will enhance the quality of researches. All these acts are supported by restructuring the universities and widening the governing bodies and boards. We are focusing now on new directions such as artificial intelligence and other fields that will increase the citation index of Saudi researches.
What changes do you expect to the education landscape in the coming years, both for public and private institutions?
Universities have to work according to our standards. However, we want to connect both public and private universities to the market. It is now mandatory for all schools to have advisory boards made up of representatives from the market, including large companies and corporations, as well as government. Once the universities are connected—and most of them already are—we do not have problems with future employability. However, the problem before was that every school has its own mission and objectives. Now, we ensure their visions are aligned with the national vision to make sure there is coherence between the needs of the market and all the stakeholders and schools, private or public. This is what we are working toward for the future. Many schools are already working closely with us, though the newer ones are on our agenda for the coming years.