Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – For the first time in the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), men will be in the same classrooms with women in at least one university. The new institution is the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), located in Thuwal, some 80 kilometres north of Jeddah.
Inaugurated on Wednesday, the co-ed campus is the brainchild of Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and will be a unique location for the women who pass entry exams.
Saudi Arabia’s religious police will not be allowed on the premises, but women, both students and teaching staff, will be able to drive cars without being charged like in the rest of the kingdom.
“Humanity has been the target of vicious attacks from extremists, who speak the language of hatred,” King Abdullah said at the inauguration ceremony on Wednesday.
“Undoubtedly,” he added, “scientific centres that embrace all peoples are the first line of defence against extremists. And today this university will become a house of wisdom . . . a beacon of tolerance.”
At least 817 students representing 61 different countries have already enrolled in the research university on the Red Sea coast. Of these, 314 of the students are ready to begin their classes; the rest are set to start classes at the onset of 2010.
The university’s goal is to reach 2,000 students, 15 per cent from the KSA.
KAUST’s international nature is another important factor in King Abdullah’s effort to brush up the kingdom’s image.
The university will be equipped with some of the latest systems in technological research.
Its faculty will be drawn from a number of countries, and students will be able to graduate for example in earth science and engineering, chemical and biological engineering, applied mathematics and computational Science, and electrical engineering.