TRAINING FOR TRANSFORMATION

Saudi Arabia 2018-19 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

Prince Sultan University boasts a unique curriculum, programs that align with the private sector, and solid contributions to education in Saudi.

Ahmed Yamani
BIOGRAPHY
Ahmed Yamani was appointed Rector of Prince Sultan University. He holds a PhD in structural engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He started his academic career in the Department of Architecture and Building Sciences, College of Architecture and Planning at King Saud University.

What distinguishes PSU from other public and private institutions in KSA?

What distinguishes PSU is primarily our academic structure and flexibility in decision making. As a private university, we are nimble and responsive to the needs of the job market. Additionally, the diversity in our population is a plus; we currently have 34 different nationalities amongst our faculty members and over 25% of our enrollment is international students. Our academic facilities are also equipped with the latest technologies. As the first step in a crafted three-stage curriculum, the focus is on cultivating soft skills as the students go through a one-year preparatory program that aids the transition between high school and higher education. Then, moving onto the second level, they select and do their university programs. The third, and capstone element, level is the co-op program. This is a rigorous seven-month immersion into the workforce that narrows the gap between the theories learned in the classroom and the practices of the workplace.

How have you achieved a high level of internationalization in terms of students?

International students know very well what they will receive when they come to PSU. PSU has proven the success and value of private higher education through its quality academic programs. Over the years we have developed a reputation for the rigor and thoroughness of our programs and the quality of our graduates. Our programs are designed to bridge the gap between education and employment through on-the-job training cued directly to the job market. Public universities have a great mission to educate and graduate the young adults of our nation. We have a more flexible remit, and the international students enhance the experience for everyone.

PSU's graduates are in high demand from the private sector. How do you develop curricula to meet the market's needs?

It is extremely important to match the skills university graduates possess with what the job market needs. Three parties have roles to play here: the private sector, universities, and the government through the Ministry of Education. We have an advisory board in each college that meets once a year. These boards are drawn from the business and professional communities. With all of this input, we update our programs frequently with the help of international consultants as well. For example we reviewed and upgraded our law program a few years back. PSU was the first institution to start a law program for female students in 2007. After two waves of graduation, we assembled an international committee to work on updating our law program and had it reviewed by law professors from the University of Richmond, Cambridge, and Harvard Law Schools. Typically, lawyers are either familiar with Islamic law or US or UK law; we want our graduates to have knowledge of both. The fact that our students have moved on to renowned American law schools, such as Harvard, Duke, Columbia, and UC Berkeley for their LLMs and passed the New York Bar Exam demonstrates the quality of our programs.

Is the sector witnessing a period of change, and if so, how are your goals impacted?

PSU contributed significantly to the National Transformation Program (NTP). The university started on that campaign with its Community Services and Continuing Education Center's Education for Employment (E4E) program in 2009. It is specialized for unemployed local university graduates. Candidates are screened and selected on merit. Participants go through the program for 16 months, first building up proficiency in English and development of practical skills. They then move on to advancing up levels of professional certifications. We want to nationalize our E4E model and see it adopted at other universities across the country with guidance from PSU. Higher education has to deal with the evolving professional needs of the 21st century, and in this sense, we have been part of this reform for nearly a decade.

What are your plans for the next 12 months?

Our strategic plan is focused on research and NTP initiatives. We have established a Research and Initiatives Center that has three components: PSU Research Review, an international scholarly journal; pursuit of NTP initiatives led by research teams from our five colleges; and lab research and group projects that signal the identity of PSU research work and raise the impact of our published works.