Saudis build $10bn IT research centre

Saudis build $10bn IT research centre

New university part of plans for the information economy

The cornerstone has been laid on the King Abdulla University of Science and Technology (Kaust) a new $10bn university in Saudi Arabia devoted to pure research and applied sciences.

The facility will open physically in September 2009 on the Red Sea coast near Rabigh, but the first students will start courses next year using e-learning from around the world.

The Saudi government has pledged $10bn in support over the next decade.

"IT is a cornerstone of our country's development," said Nadhmi Al-Nasr, Kaust's interim president.

"Kaust is a long journey that the nation will be going through in its transition to a knowledge-based economy. This is the start of a long-term relationship between academic institutions around the world and Kaust."

The university will have schools of applied mathematics and computational science, biosciences and engineering, resources, energy and environment and materials science.

The design of the university is being assisted by a high-level board of academics from around the world, including representatives from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University, Yahoo and Amazon.

"Building a new research university, especially one with such resources, is very exciting," said Professor Peter Lee, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon.

"The opportunity is to design the perfect site. For all of us there is the chance to free ourselves from the legacy of existing systems, which is very exciting."

The courses will be open to men and women around the world, with places awarded solely on merit.

The campus will be built from the ground up to integrate wireless and wired connectivity throughout.

"Kaust will be built as a smart city," said Majid Al-Ghaslan, interim chief information officer at the university.

"There will be wireless throughout the whole complex and an abundance of computing power for students and teachers."

Kaust is just one step in a national Saudi IT strategy which hopes to reverse the trend of students being sent overseas to the US, UK, China and India to learn computer programming and languages.