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Diversifying Saudi Arabia through open source and its university-by-design

Last week I attended the EPIC conference in New York City. One of the more interesting topics came by way of Saudi Arabia. If you haven’t heard of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or KAUST, you’re missing out on one of the grander experiments at the intersection of government, culture, economic development, and academia.

KAUST is a graduate-level research university currently with 500 students, and plans to go up to 2,000. It’s a self-contained city of 12 square miles—complete with residential districts, recreation, restaurants, and retail—located on the Red Sea.  Its endowment is acknowledged to be more than $10 billion. In the United States that would make it the 6th largest endowment, just above MIT and two below Princeton at $12.6B.  Princeton was founded in 1746.  KAUST was a desert two years ago.

There’s no tenure. Faculty hold five-year contracts. Gone are traditional departments; instead, KAUST has multidisciplinary research centers focused on solving the challenges of the region: clean combustion, improved agriculture, water desalination and reuse and solar and alternative energy, to name a few.

Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts might be the closest example of a university-by-design, but Olin is still a different beast as an undergraduate institution with 400 students.

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