BUILDING KNOWLEDGE

Kuwait 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: SABAH AL SALEM UNIVERSITY CITY

Sabah Al Salem University City is a gigantic project, but look beyond the physical magnitude and you see an idea symbolic of what is to come for Kuwait's higher education sector.

At the beginning of the new century, Kuwait faced a multifaceted issue in education due to a surging young population, thanks to high birth rates and immigration, and a lack of higher education opportunities. As always in Kuwait, the solution had to be grandiose. And so, in 2005, planning for a new university campus started. It was a daunting task, requiring 14 years from planning to completion. A project of such scale has necessitated partnerships with foreign companies from China all the way to the US.

Now, 13 years in, Sabah Al Salem University City is 85% complete; construction started in 2012, and should be achieved in 2019. On 6 million sqm of land a few kilometers southwest of Kuwait City, the campus cost USD1.5 billion and will provide the teaching ground for around 40,000 students.
More specifically, the campus will be divided into separate male and a female sections, both crossed by an artery—an urban street—protected from the outdoor elements and meant to be the center of campus. Lined with shops and space for student activities, the street will be the literal and metaphorical lifeline for the campus. The city will be surrounded by green landscaping, with an oasis to separate the male and female campuses and a faculty club within the oasis. In addition, a medical campus, with a 600-bed hospital and a research center, will be linked to the main campus. The Council of Ministers will soon decide whether this new campus will be part of Kuwait University or whether it will be a new university in and of itself.
And while it will be enormous, it will also be technologically top-notch and the design reflects the innovation Kuwait wants in education. A virtual library will complement physical collections, classrooms will have smartcard access, and lectures will be recorded and broadcast online. Beyond the integration of technology and learning, the architecture's design—incorporating up-to-date green technologies—will stand, too, as a flagship of Kuwait's vision for its future. It will be as sustainable as they come, with innovative shading and heat isolation to save energy, meeting several international ecological benchmarks.
As is the case with so many other vital projects, Sabah Al Salem University City is part of the Kuwait 2035 Development Plan, which highlights the need for economic diversification and underlines the importance of human capital and, thus, education. More than growing the country's number of students, this education-focused city will actively shape Kuwait's education priorities, policies, and programs. What we see is a strong push toward the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields—sectors with high employment rates. Historically dependent on expatriates in these fields, Kuwait desperately lacks national employee candidates with the required knowledge and training, most notably in the oil and gas sector. Sabah Al Salem City's focus on hard sciences will drive economic diversification with a supply of qualified Kuwaiti human capital, reducing the reliance on foreigners to make the economy go round.
As a flagship project for the public education sector, it is but a spark for reform throughout the education sector, cutting across both private and public domains. Curriculums are being standardized, and a great number of private universities are flourishing, either through the establishment of new universities or the expansion of operations at existing ones.
And so, 14 years after its inception, planning on the behemoth-sized project is coming to an end. A dazzling design, an innovative use of technology, and the daunting task of steering the future of Kuwait's education sector in the right direction, the realization of Sabah Al Salem University City's true education transformation remains to be seen.