University cities in the UK

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Okaz

THE total number of British universities, according to Times Higher Education, exceeds 89 universities. They are distributed between Scotland, England and Wales.

In addition to the strong education system in this UK, there are major reasons why the emphasis on higher education is due to direct economic benefits to the country.

When I talk about university cities here, I do not mean the cities that are surrounded by high concrete walls that no one can traverse without an entry card or a permit, that do not serve the surrounding neighborhood and that close its gates to prevent women from going out without prior permission.

Reading in England, where I am finishing my fifth year as a scholarship student, is a small city in size but it is complete with all necessary services. I do not need to go to London, which does not interest me, and I do not have to pass through it because the Heathrow Airport is only 30 minutes away from my house.

Reading is a quiet but beautiful city. The economy of this city is centered on its prestigious university, which was established in 1892. The University of Reading is one of the most powerful research universities in the world. It occupies a prime position, whether in the UK or internationally.

This university does not have any closed walls. The gates are open throughout the year with extended green landscape with the university’s red flag in the middle.

The first impression a person will have when visiting the city, which is an extended university, will be long lasting. University buses are everywhere with Reading’s logo. They are on constant move. Every ten minutes there is a bus coming from one or other direction and then on its way to the university. All roads lead to the university.

A university student feels a sense of belonging with the benefits and discounts that comes with it. Students will enjoy travel concessions and receive discounts at restaurants.

A student will feel that everything around him/her is to serve him/her as a student. Even the private clinic at the university is the best.

As I am getting ready to leave Reading, I feel respect toward the education policies and the great minds behind the educational scenes that we see in most British cities. I do not forget the deanship and the supporting departments and the laws that make any foreign student feels appreciated. There is special support in case any student faced discrimination or aggression. The university management is not lenient when it comes to protecting the rights of students and shows the utmost care toward them.

Universities here open its doors and grant permits for cultural events and support it morally and financially.

Can we do the same in Saudi Arabia? Yes, we can. We have unique universities the Kingdom.

I would like to present ways that could contribute to building university cities in our country similar to the ones in the UK.

Most importantly, we need to change our view of the concept of university cities. We need to lay out a plan to gradually support the establishment of seven university cities until we reach to one hundred cities through a special program for “Saudi University Cities”.

The project of “Saudi University Cities” must target humanizing cities, at the same time achieving the goals of higher education. We need to open the doors of our universities to accept foreign students, of course with a fee, in order to support the university budgets.

If we gradually start to execute the establishment of seven university cities in different regions and adopt the British model that is compatible with our society, then there will be a major shift in the economy of education and society.

Some of the cities are far away and suffer from recession and lack of jobs. Activating university cities will create many job opportunities and revive the economy of those cities under the condition that the students are given certain benefits such as discounts on services. We must also make some changes to our visa regime, housing system and certain other matters.

I still carry this dream with me each time I see foreign students around me: the dream of Saudi universities becoming a destination for foreign students. We have the power and the capability. What we lack in all honesty is the ability to trust ourselves. We should not allow bureaucracy to stand as an obstacle in our way of educational development.

A final message to officials and those concerned with education affairs: If they think that creating educational economy needs a miracle, then they should step aside and let the brave — people who are not afraid of change — to do the job. We have no time to waste.


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