VISIONARY APPROACH

Saudi Arabia 2018-19 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

The University of Tabuk is focusing on its key areas of strength, determining the needs of the job market, and aligning its initiatives with Vision 2030.

Prof. Abdullah M. Althiabi
BIOGRAPHY
Rector of University of Tabuk, Prof. Abdullah M. Althiabi is a noteworthy figure in the education sector in Saudi Arabia. He holds a BA in mathematics, a master’s degree from University of Missouri-Kansas City, and a PhD from the University of Birmingham. Prof. Abdullah was the vice-rector at University of Tabuk in 2010. He was also the vice-rector for educational affairs at King AbdulAziz University from 2016 until he was appointed rector. He used to be a member of a high-level committee for evaluating female colleges across the Kingdom at the Ministry of Higher Education, as well as a member of a committee to check on community colleges.

What are some of the university's main strengths, and how have they evolved over the years?

One of our major strengths is our location. Tabuk is in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, with a population of 910,000 and close to the new tourism and business hub NEOM. We offer students a chance to get a first-class university education locally. The university currently has 29,000 students and 3,000 staff. We have students from Europe, Asia, America, and Africa, and expanding our international student exchange programs is part of our strategy. We have grown and have been able to build up our structures and programs in various disciplines, including economics. From the outset, we insisted on applying certain local and international benchmarks when building our programs. We have international cooperation contracts with several universities such as University of Louisiana and New York State University. From our inception in 2006, the university's vision has been to develop our own resources and then grow them. The university has 12 million sqm of land at its disposal. We have investment plans and a special unit run by experienced financial experts dedicated to building up our resources. We also have an Institute of Research and Consultation, which is the connection between our colleges and staff and the private sector. Any company looking for consultation services or research regarding specific issues can use our services. The university comprises 11 colleges, 12 deanships, six units, and two centers as well as five university colleges across five satellite campuses. This is in addition to newly establishing another college, two centers, and a unit in line with Vision 2030. A total of 850 scholars have been sent to study abroad covering many fields of science as well as gaining five patents in scientific research.

How do you assess the skills that are in demand in the private sector?

From the outset, we have worked to establish strong connections with local authorities and companies over time. We also have a great relationship with the local Trade Chamber and the Ministry of Labor, which help us to understand the labor needs in this rapidly changing economy. Each college within the university has its own council with representatives from businesses and local government. We have prepared our latest strategic plan based on Saudi's economic needs and the new projects that are currently ongoing in Tabuk, for example, NEOM and other Red Sea projects. Hence, we have established two new centers and a unit: the Center for Research in Renewable Energy, Center for Industrial Innovations and Robotics, and the Entrepreneurship Unit. They will all help the university be part of what is going on in terms of new projects. We have also established a College of Tourism, since the university is in between the ancient city of Mada'in Saleh and the new tourism and business hub NEOM.

What other aspects of Vision 2030 are impacting your operations?

IT integration is a vital component of the vision. We are heavily investing in e-learning and distance learning facilities. Most of our resources are available online and most functions are now automated. All our academic registration procedures are online. We have started to run distance-learning courses whereby students do not have to come to the campus at all. Another element is female participation in the labor force. We are among the first local universities to assign a female vice-rector for our female students and encourage the colleges to increase female participation. We have women on the university and college councils as well as committees. Another important element is accreditation; the university encourages its colleges to gain accreditation for their programs. Thus, the mathematics department gained accreditation from ASIIN, CEA accredited the English department, and ABET gave its accreditation for both the mechanical engineering and computing departments.