In accordance to your mandate, what are your activities to set standards in higher education and quality control?
Our main goal is to drive excellence in all higher educational institutes and to help universities to improve their performance continuously up to international levels. To this end, we built a new set of accreditation standards that respond to the immediate and long-term needs, which are outcome-driven rather being process-driven as before. The new accreditation standards are impactful, economic, flexible, and scalable. NCAAA does not work as an inspection agency yet; however, it helps universities and faculties build up their capacities and improve their caliber for continuous development. We provide training, consultations, and a versatile range of support to all types of universities, including those established 50 or more years ago, 20-30 year-old universities, and newly established ones. Our accreditation standards concern two major domains, namely institutional capacity and educational effectiveness.
Education is considered a major pillar under Vision 2030. What does that mean for NCAAA?
It means a great deal; Vision 2030 requires a skilled, impactful, human capacity, which is directly related to education and training and is the core objective of NCAAA. All 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 competencies including the soft and future skills necessary for 2030. The economy is rapidly changing; the labor market and needed jobs of the future are completely different from those of today. We must be ready and responsive to serve the vision through effective student preparation.
How does the NCAAA meet international benchmarks, and to what extent are you collaborating with foreign partners to do so?
We meet the international benchmarking on several levels including the individual level, where we cooperate with international experts in training and external review of institutions, and on the institutional level, where most of our work such as the accreditation standards are subject to international evaluation. Moreover, there are many MoUs in place with several international bodies such as the 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 of ANQAHEE and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), and are working on obtaining a full membership from INQAHEE. This, in turn, will reflect on Saudi universities' ranking on the global stage. At present, there are five Saudi universities among the world's top 500, and we plan to have five in the top 200. Saudi universities are currently 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 concerns. The added value of the produced research—its impact on shifting to a knowledge-based economy—is a serious issue that we are working on. The newly developed accreditation standards include a complete standard on scientific research and innovation, and we are 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 scientific research and its applicability will change the funding map and landscape where the industrial institutions will accelerate funding for excellent research, enhancing the quality of research. All these 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 research.