Saudi Arabia’s new higher-education governance system, in place since last summer, grants public universities financial, administrative and academic independence in order to give them greater opportunities for development away from bureaucracy and limited official funding.
Professors and students are generally positive about the change, but some are also concerned about how it might affect faculty rights and student costs.
The new system covers 29 public universities, but so far only three universities have started working under it. They are King Saud University, in Riyadh; King Abdulaziz University, in Jeddah, and Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University, in Damman. The three universities have a total of about 145,000 students in their various disciplines.
The system will be phased in gradually at the other universities, according to standards set by the Universities Affairs Council, which is the official higher-education regulator in the kingdom.
“The new system represents an ambitious bold step toward disciplined independence, which means moving away from government bureaucracy and toward more flexibility in taking decisions in favor of universities,” said Abdulrahman Al-Khorayef, the Ministry of Education’s under secretary for university education affairs.
While the new system seeks to reduce government spending on higher education, the new universities law kept education free of charge for undergraduate students. However, it allowed universities to impose fees for graduate studies as well as the possibility of making investments to develop alternative financial resources.
“The new system will not affect students, as free education or scholarships will not be affected,” said Al-Khorayef. “Still, it will give universities the freedom to seek sources of funding to enhance their resources. It will also give them a kind of academic independence so they can create new specializations, for example, according to their vision of the requirements of the labor market.”
Under the new system, universities will work to achieve programmatic and institutional accreditation from the Education and Training Evaluation Commission, or from one of the international bodies approved by the commission. (See a related article, “A Regional Survey: How Arab Countries Regulate Quality in Higher Education.”)
Part of a Broader Vision for Change
The new change comes in line with the kingdom’s Vision 2030, a strategic plan announced in April 2016, with the aim of reducing dependence on oil, diversifying the economy, and developing public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, entertainment and tourism. (See a related article, “Crown Prince Pushes Change in Saudi Higher Education.”)