(MENAFN - Arab News) Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah inaugurated here yesterday the first phase of the university and education city projects with an aim to create world-class higher education infrastructure across the country and to boost higher education and research capacities in the process.
King Abdullah also laid the foundation stone for the second phase of the higher education project, which will cumulatively cost SR 81.5 billion on completion of different schemes in various regions of the country.
A ceremony to launch these higher education projects was organized here at Al-Yamamah Palace and attended by high-ranking Saudi officials including Minister of Higher Education Khalid Al-Anqari. "This major step backed by King Abdullah will help to support higher education projects in the Kingdom, which in turn, would eventually help to improve teaching, learning and research environment," said Al-Anqari, while speaking on this occasion.
"We are celebrating the inauguration of these new higher education projects," said Al-Anqari, adding that a total of 18 higher education cities and academies will be built following the inauguration yesterday. These projects - separately for male and female students - will be implemented in different regions of the Kingdom including Jazan, Baha, Najran, the region near northern borders, Tabuk, Jouf, Hail, Shaqra, Majmaah, Taibah, Qassim, Taif and Kharj.
This will be in addition to the construction of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz City for Female Students at Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University, a female hostel at King Saud University and another female hostel in Umm Al-Qura University.
"The inauguration of these projects will also help to boost quality assurance and management of higher education institutions in the Kingdom," said Al-Anqari, while appreciating the efforts of the king and his commitment to the cause of higher education.
Referring to the new projects, he pointed out that the Ministry of Higher Education would build 167 new colleges for male students, 161 colleges for female students, 11,000 housing units for academic and non-academic staff and 100 hostels for students. All these facilities will cater to the needs of over 50,000 students at any given time. The new projects also include building 12 new university hospitals with a cumulative capacity of 3,800 beds.
These university hospitals will be constructed in Qassim, Kharj, Rabigh, Najran, the northern borders, Tabuk, Taibah, Taif, Baha, Hail, Jouf and Jazan.
The inauguration of the new higher education projects will also eventually help to boost networking and partnerships between higher education institutions in the Kingdom and the neighboring countries.
Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily in education and training sector. The Kingdom's national budget this year includes a 135 percent increase in education spending. Also, Saudi Arabia has approved the Ninth Five-Year Development Plan for the period from 2010 to 2014 focusing on human resource development including education and training in a bid to reinforce the Kingdom's goal of creating a knowledge-based society. The Ninth Five-Year Plan includes increasing the capacity of universities to 1.7 million students.
The government has also a plan in place to expand and diversify postgraduate programs. The plan also encourages innovation in science and technology. Other initiatives announced a few months back include the establishment of 10 research centers, 15 university technological innovation centers in association with King Abdullah City for Science and Technology (KACST), and at least eight technology incubators at KACST and other universities. The government will also continue to promote university collaboration with international companies.