Tag Archives: students

Riyadh Higher Education Conference and Exhibition

Every year for the past 3 years, Riyadh has hosted an enormous international exhibition and conference on higher education. The main goals are to build relationships and collaborations between Saudi and international universities. It also serves as a ground for international universities to recruit Saudi undergraduate and graduate students, with both sides no doubt wanting to take advantage of the generous King Abdullah Scholarship Program. Most if not all Saudi universities are in attendance and are represented by elaborate booths, such as the ones pictured here:Dammam University even had a waterfall set up in front of it, which caught the eye of some future students:

In addition, I was amazed to see that there were more than 400 universities from all around the world in attendance. Certain institutions were invited as formal guests of the Ministry of Higher Education, and as such, these institutions got to send three delegates who were flown first class, put up in the very new, very ritzy, Ritz Carlton Hotel, and got to have their booths on the red carpet-lined main corridor of the exhibition hall. Our university was one of the Ministry’s invited guests so we got a prime location for viewing the activities of the exhibition. This included being subjected to the barrage of people, security, and TV cameras who followed the Minister of Higher Education everywhere he went when he was at the exhibition on the first day to open the activities.

All the universities were organized by country and certainly it looked like the major areas of interest for prospective Saudi students were the US, UK, Australia, and Canada. Japan had a strong presence too.

And tucked away in a far corner of the exhibition hall, I was pleasantly surprised to find a university from as far-flung a place as Azerbaijan. (I wonder how many international students they manage to recruit to Baku?)

But perhaps the most interesting (most alarming?) booth was the one for the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices, also known as the religious police (mutaween), or ‘haia’ (arabic for ‘commission’). They were planted in a prime location right in the heart of the exhibition hall.

When I first saw them listed among the list of Saudi institutions, I thought that maybe they ran a sort of religious police academy? Perhaps a religious university? But no, they were there to promote virtue and prevent vice. Indeed, I heard from some of the delegates from other Canadian universities that they had been going around the exhibition on the first day to let all the foreigners know that women should cover their hair. As such, I found myself in the surprising situation of giving these women mini lessons on how to properly wrap their scarves around their head. Seems like I’ve come a long way since the days of my two-slitted head coverings!

more student protests …

Saturday saw more protests at King Khalid University in Abha, this time the male students coming out in support of the females, who demonstrated last Wednesday. This short video shows the students marching onto campus and calling for the resignation of the university president.

Some more images of the protests at KKU were emailed to me, but unfortunately, I don’t know the original source of them. This one shows the authorities’ response to the male students’ protest earlier this week. Note the machine gun truck in the photo on the top right and the tank-like vehicle in the middle. Yikes! (The caption on this photo collage says “King Khalid Military University”.)

I also got more images from the women’s protest. Here’s one showing just a sea of black from the number of women gathered during the demonstration.

The signs being held up by these 3 women say “The People want to bring down the regime of King Khalid University” – a phrase borrowed from the Arab Spring protests.

There’s also several videos on Youtube that were posted about a month ago showing examples of what the students were demonstrating about. I grabbed a couple of screen shots from one of them. The state of the facilities is pretty shocking, even more so considering that the university is relatively new (established 1999) and that the country has forecast a $3.2 billion budget surplus and has budgeted more than $100 billion for education spending for 2012. And the focus on education already goes back several years – for example, in 2008, the budget for education was $28 billion.

Where is the all that money allocated towards education going? These students deserve much more from their university and the learning environment the government purports to provide!