(MENAFN - Arab News) Provost of Al-Faisal University professor Faisal Al-Mubarak said Al-Faisal University is considered one of the reputed world universities in terms of scientific position, teaching techniques, syllabi, research works and extraordinary support to students and teaching staff.
Al-Mubarak said the university offers bachelor and masters programs in business administration, medicine and engineering. Foreign students account for 40 percent of total students in the university and all programs are administered in English. He added that Al-Faisal is a nonprofit research university whose philosophy centers on educational tools with special emphasis on students and a low faculty-student ratio.
Al-Mubarak spoke to Ali Al-Bluwi of Arab News in an exclusive interview.
How did the idea of Al-Faisal University come about?
The Al-Faisal University is a product of the educational vision of the late King Faisal, which was based on combining theoretical and research education. This vision was clearly carried out by the sons of King Faisal in the context of establishing of world-class philanthropy to sustain research and cultural foundation. The foundation currently sponsors the King Faisal International Prize (KFIP) and is considered an integrated and full-fledged body with a special funding unit to achieve financial support for its activities.
When was the University established?
The university came into being after a series of meticulous studies were carried out by Saudi and international experts based on the idea that the university become a unique and outstanding institution among leading Saudi and international universities in terms of teaching techniques and its educational system as a whole.
As soon as the strategic vision became clear and applicable, the university was established in 2003. We successfully attracted a number of experts and educationalists well-versed in higher education and signed contracts and memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with reputed educational institutions such as the Stevens Institute of Technology (SIT) and Harvard International, among others. We further selected four major programs on knowledge-based economy urgently needed by the Kingdom.
How and where do you place Al-Faisal University among Saudi universities?
Al-Faisal University, as indicated earlier, is different and distinct in its capacity as a research center. It focuses on students and quality teaching staff and is located appropriately and weighs out its financial and administrative potentials carefully. The University's birth rested on findings that the number of graduates of Saudi universities on academic and sharia studies account for more than 80 percent of total graduates, which meant that knowledge-based economy is a virtually nonexistent field. Al-Faisal University took those points into consideration and adopted a clear vision when it decided to go into operation to cater for knowledge-based economy as a discipline.
How is the University run, and who are the members of the board of trustees?
The University is run through a universal and specialized formula whose focal point is the student. Educational output remains a major concern for us, on the one hand, and preparation of students at international standards which will allow them enter into any educational programs or jobs at reputed world universities or corporations, on the other.
With regard to the board of trustees, it is headed by Prince Khaled Al-Faisal with members including Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Prince Bandar Al-Faisal, Prince Bandar bin Saud bin Khalid, Prince Turki bin Saud, deputy president of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), and Qasim Al-Qusaibi, president of King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center.
How are members of the board selected?
The board is composed of sons of King Faisal who have a leading role in translating King Faisal's educational vision into practice within the framework of a mega charitable foundation of multiple activities. KACST is a member, being an incubator of science and technology in the Kingdom, and KFSH&RC, in its capacity as an applied center. The board also has members drawn from the business community namely Saleh Kamil, Hamad Al-Jumaih, Yahya Binladin, Mohammed Al-Amoudi, in addition to international companies such as Boeing, Thales, BA Systems, the United Technology, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Higher Education such as Abdullah Musallam, head of the National Authority for Accreditation and Certification; Mohammed Al-Owhali, deputy minister of higher education; Abdulalh Al-Othman, former rector of King Saud University; Mohammed Al-Shihri, deputy rector of King Saud University for Health Sciences; and Provost of Al-Faisal University Faisal Al-Mubarak.
There is remarkable diversity in the board membership; what does that mean for your institution?
This diversity reflects an outstanding administration that is able to run and supervise the University in association with a knowledgeable and experienced board. Moreover, the University aims to have a diverse and well-known administration with experts on the ground in order for the university to possess an international nature with supportive wings in different specializations that can eventually create true partnerships with different entities.
How do you see the location of the university as it occupies part of King Faisal's Palace?
The King Faisal Foundation deliberately selected King Faisal Palace as the university premises for moral and spiritual reasons. The residents of the Kingdom know this place besides the position of King Faisal as an Arab and international figure. The university, as mentioned above, has a unique educational environment and there is a plan to expand the current campus to a larger one.
What are key colleges of the University and how they differ from other Saudi universities?
The University has four major colleges which maintain the best educational programs in the Kingdom despite novelty of the university. What distinguishes the university from other Saudi universities can be summarized as follows:
- Recruitment of the best teaching staff at both Saudi and international levels based on international standards.
- The university offers key financial and research privileges to teaching staff which are comparable if not better than what is available in most US and world universities.
- Teaching staff at Al-Faisal University have low teaching load which allows them to undertake research and scientific activity and publish studies in the most reputed world magazines and periodicals.
- Al- Faisal University won the first rank in the number of offered grants and researches accepted by KACST.
- Al-Faisal University topped the list of Saudi universities grants announced by Saudi Aramco where the university won three researches from the total of 13 competed at Kingdom level.
- Al-Faisal University's students are exceptionally active in research within the Kingdom and without; they won international prizes.
How does the university view students?
As mentioned earlier, the university is a nonprofit and research center of excellence whose philosophy evolves around advanced educational tools with special emphasis on students. The university strenuously works to equip its students with research potential and quality scientific and knowledge skills. Normally, students practice research activity during the course of their bachelor degree at the university and are dispatched to a number of world universities to gain experience in such educational institutions. Moreover, the students are supported financially to join international conferences. Indeed, their rate of presence was higher compared to their counterparts in other universities.
What about the "equality" of education in the University?
To ensure that the (female and male) students benefit from world class teaching staff and have equal educational opportunities, the university has adopted the "shared class" system, taking into consideration our communal values and specialties. In other words, professors give lectures in one lecture theater for both female and male students as the class is divided into two sections, thereby allowing all students to benefit from lectures indiscriminately. The university utilizes teaching staff of highly experienced talent whose recruitment is not an easy matter.
What kind of relations exist between Al-Faisal University and other world universities?
The qualification of students from a knowledge-based and scientific point of view necessitates that the university should have close relations with world scientific and research centers and sources. Therefore, Al-Faisal University's bachelor and master's programs were designed in cooperation with reputed universities such as MIT, Michael Porter, Harvard International, in addition to other programs with leading universities.
Additionally, Al-Faisal University sends students to key world universities to complete their study programs. They achieved outstanding results in some of these universities, notably Queens University in the area of Aerospace Engineering, where King Faisal University students achieved honor degrees without any educational obstacles when they enrolled in these programs as soon as they completed studies at Al-Faisal University.
Why do you think that Al-Faisal University is distinct?
The distinctive nature of the university can be ascribed to the philosophy of the university which focuses on the student. This is reflected in the design of buildings and the ratio of the number of teaching staff to students which does not exceed 1:10. This conforms to international standards. Moreover, the number of students in a class does not exceed 25 students.
Another important aspect is that the members of teaching staff have a low teaching load (classes) during the academic year which allows them to create close relations with students, a matter that can be reflected positively on members of staff who in turn are able to provide more lectures. Furthermore, a low teaching load allows faculty members to engage in research and attend conferences.
What is the nature of grants offered by the university?
Al-Faisal University offers generous scholarships to students amounting to 66 percent of the total students studying at the university. The grants fall into the category of either full or partial grants. The university also allows students to participate in international conferences. The Ministry of Higher Education provides full scholarships to Saudi students.
What are your policies for admission?
Al-Faisal University admits students who have achieved higher scores upon completion of secondary schools. As the university programs are fully run in English, admission to the university requires that the candidate have TOFEL 500, or an equivalent certification, as a prerequisite to register for university programs. However, candidates who have no TOEFL500 certification are admitted to a one-year preparatory program where the number of students account for 30 percent of the total students admitted in one academic year. Many families prefer registration of their sons at the preparatory year program so they can obtain necessary higher academic qualifications.
The program is believed to be the best at Saudi and Gulf levels and has been supervised by the AM organization in coordination with King Faisal University to ensure qualification of students to cope with the needs of colleges and their different sections.
What about the financial resources of the University?
As mentioned earlier, the university is a nonprofit research organization tailored on world class educational standards. Therefore, the university is working to maximize exploitation of its financial and human resources to assure the delivery of the best educational programs. Regardless of the volume of resources, we go afoot with global educational institutions in terms of scientific and research status. In general, Al-Faisal University performs much better with lean budgets.
How do you view the research policy of the university?
Al- Faisal University is primarily a research learning center and, therefore, the overall educational process centers on this point. We are prepared to see the university become one of the key world research centers through the provision of research support for the creation of scientific research basics and to offer scholarships for best students. This support includes two centralized points of the educational process: teacher and student, in addition to participation at international conferences. This policy is applied in our program of study on business administration and medicine (especially in genetics, radiology and the biomedical field).
What key challenges, you believe, are facing the university?
Universities wishing to work at the level of world leading universities will definitely face a series of challenges including how to gain reputation and a prestigious scientific and knowledge-based ranking. In our case, challenges will include competition with government-run universities which provide free grants and attractive salaries to students. Additionally, educational programs at the Al-Faisal University are relatively expensive since expenditure is supposed to cover costly items such as engineering labs, applied medicine, management remunerations, teaching staff of scientific stature compared to their counterparts in non-research private and public universities.
As Al- Faisal University insists on observing strict quality. As such, it devotes substantial funds to attract distinct teaching cadres in addition to the university's high quality facilities and buildings which were designed and built at international standards.
Other financial burdens come from the nature of partnerships existing between the University and hospitals inside and outside the Kingdom. Costs of education at the university are high compared to
other privately-owned teaching universities.
Finally, the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program (KAFSP) diverts potential distinguished students to seek international universities.
While the above-mentioned factors will place pressure on the financial resources' of the University, Al-Faisal continues to receive support from the government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the Ministry of Higher Education and above all the open support given by the King Faisal Foundation to cover financial shortfalls, as well as the generous backing rendered by members of the board of directors and the donors of non-board members.