Imperial signs Saudi deal as first step into Gulf

March 13, 2008

A £5 billion university being built in Saudi Arabia has confirmed a string of partnerships with international institutions, including Imperial College London.

Amid predictions of an era of "golden opportunity" for academic expansion in the Gulf states, Imperial has signed a deal worth £25 million with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

The institutions will collaborate on research, curriculum development and academic recruitment. Similar arrangements have been struck with Stanford University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of California, Berkeley in the US.

Higher education in the Gulf states is expanding rapidly. In November, Chris Davidson, an international affairs lecturer at Durham University who advises the Dubai Government, told a conference that "there is a golden opportunity inextricably linked to very fresh demands for a knowledge economy" in the region.

Imperial's alliance with KAUST, which will open in September 2009, involves its chemical engineering and materials departments.

Bill Lee, head of Imperial's department of materials, said the deal was a "big opportunity".

"They have an enormous endowment to get the university up and running, so people will be guaranteed research funding," he said.

Despite concerns in the US about the Saudi record on gender equality, Dr Lee said KAUST "will be like any other international university".

Times Higher Education understands that Imperial is investigating further links with institutions in the region, and that the University of Cambridge is also considering new partnerships in the Gulf.

If universities are to fully internationalise, they must involve every member of academic staff in the process, a report by the UK Higher Education International Unit warns.

Staff must be fully engaged, and a proper international strategy will require "explicit funding", says the report, which is due to be published at a conference hosted by research firm i-graduate this week, "Rethinking Higher Education: The Practice of Internationalisation".

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com

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