Noura University, a landmark dedicated to a beloved aunt

By SAEED AL-KHOTANI courtesy ARAB NEWS

RIYADH: Round-the-clock construction work has been taking place near King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh for the last few months.

On a 94-square kilometer-site, the new campus of the Princess Noura bint Abdul Rahman University is being built. It will be one of the largest higher education institutions for women in the world.

It is really hard for anyone not to notice the scaffolding, cranes, loaded trucks and intense activity at the site.

The workers were meant to have met a 2010 deadline, but this has now been pushed back to sometime next year.

A source told Arab News that more than half of the construction work has been completed already.

The university council suggested naming the university after Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah at the foundation-laying ceremony in October. He politely declined and suggested naming it after Princess Noura bint Abdul Rahman instead.

Princess Noura was the king’s aunt and the older and very much beloved sister of his father, the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdul Aziz.

Some historical sources say the princess, who enjoyed great respect and superior status in the founder’s heart, was the one who urged him to leave Kuwait, where he and his family were in exile, to try to regain control of Riyadh, the traditional home of his ancestors. This ultimately led to the creation of the Kingdom.

It was customary of King Abdul Aziz to proudly say: “I’m the brother of Noura.” (Mentioning any female family member’s name in public is still seen as shameful to many Saudis.)

The same sources say that she was a poet and known to be broad minded, citing her for being behind the introduction of the telephone in the country, despite some religious fanatics calling it a tool of the devil. Princess Noura passed away in 1950.

Some reports describe this $5-billion project as one of the most advanced higher education institutions in the world in terms of construction, equipment and operation.

According to Princess Al-Jawhara bint Fahd, the first female university rector in the Kingdom and the first colleges in Princess Noura’s name were founded in 1970.

Since then, almost 60,000 students have graduated from the colleges that were incorporated in 2007 and serve the country in different capacities, contributing to its social and economical development.

Princess Al-Jawhara views the new campus as a catalyst to help the university evolve into a giant center for excellence and leadership specializing in many fields locally, regionally and internationally.

These fields include higher education, scientific research, community service, environmental development and building a knowledge-based society, all within the framework of Islamic, cultural and societal values.

Currently, the university has 13 colleges based in temporary premises in Riyadh, accommodating 26,000 students.

These colleges offer study programs in 55 subjects, bachelor’s degree courses in 38 subjects and master’s and doctorate degrees in around 40 subjects.

The completed campus will be able to accommodate over 40,000 thousand students and offer housing to around 20,000 from all over the Kingdom.

It will offer additional courses in subjects, including medicine, pharmacy, management, computer sciences and languages.

In its 8 million square meter grounds, the campus will have buildings for university administration, 15 colleges, a central library, conference centers, several laboratories and a 700-bed hospital, all equipped with state-of-the-art facilities.

There will also be centers for nanotechnology, biosciences and information technology that will operate in coordination with the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology.

The campus will also include housing for university staff and students, mosques, a school, kindergarten and amusement centers.

All these facilities will be served by a high-tech transport system with automatic and computer-controlled vehicles acting as a link to all important facilities at the campus around the clock.

The environment has also been given due consideration.

The campus claims to be a green one and features energy-saving technology. The 40,000 square meters of solar paneling will provide 16 percent of power for campus heating and 18 percent for air-conditioning.

Also, the campus will have a water recycling plant capable of producing 8,000 cubic meters of water every day for green areas in the university.

Furthermore, its buildings have been designed to incorporate sunlight as a natural source of light.

Observers expect this new university to be a key center for inducting new generations of women in the Kingdom into an era of globalization, albeit in accordance with the teachings of Islam and Saudi Arabian traditions.

Furthermore, they view it as a precedent to opening more universities for women all over the Kingdom, gradually replacing existing women sections at male-run universities, especially as statistics indicate that girls make up two-thirds of the 600,000 students in higher education in the country.