KFUPM: A Jewel of a University
on Arabian Sands
The King Fahd Universty of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran.
Thirty-five years ago, a uniquely designed modern building featuring sweeping Islamic arches was built on a 100-foot-tall hilltop known as Jabal Dhahran in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.
The sand-colored structure, from the top of which can be seen the desert to the west and the Arabian Gulf and Bahrain to the east, instantly became a landmark. Named the College of Petroleum and Minerals, the new institution began to make its mark academically.
When it was created in 1963, the College of Petroleum and Minerals had the task of providing the technical and scientific curricula required to produce a cadre of Saudi professionals able to help run the country's rapidly growing petroleum and mineral industries.
When the school opened in 1964, a total of 67 young Saudi men entered its classrooms. By the 1980-81 academic year, the student body had grown to more than 3,000. This year, about 8,000 are enrolled in the institution, whose name was changed in 1986 to King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM). Today the university is an internationally recognized institution renowned in the petroleum industry. Its College of Engineering ranks with the top engineering colleges in the United States and the United Kingdom.
The campus has grown from the original building built 35 years ago to a vast complex spread over 2.5 square miles. Located next to the headquarters of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, the campus consists of 28 major buildings for academic and research use, as well as faculty offices, a library, an administration building, the Faculty/ Student Center, the University Book Store, an auditorium, a mosque, a medical center, the Conference Center, recreational facilities, athletic fields and a sports stadium.
Faculty and staff housing, plus a family recreation center, commissary, nursery and kindergarten, as well as student dormitories, a cafeteria, and the University Press building, are located to the south of the main complex.
To the north, another site accommodates additional student dormitories, and adjacent to this housing area is another cafeteria, a spacious building with a capacity of 1,500. There are also coffee shops located in the Faculty/Student Center and in several of the academic buildilngs.
Sports and recreational facilities include a 10,000-seat stadium. Architecturally consistent with the main buildings, the recreation facilities include swimming pools, soccer and track fields, and basketball, volleyball, squash, handball and tennis courts.
Students in a classroom
The University Library, a short walk from the laboratories, has a collection of 326,445 volumes, 80 percent of them dealing with the sciences and engineering and the remainder addressing humanities and the social sciences. Students also have access to about 490,000 research reports on microfilm, 25,000 educational films and other media, 1,500 periodical titles and 37,500 reels of journal back-issues on microfilm.
Equipped with the latest technology, the library is fully automated and offers a sizeable collection of electronic databases and CD-ROM databases. Using Internet links, students and staff have access to full-text scientific and research databases around the world.
Likewise, KFUPM's Information Technology Center houses an impressive mix of the latest computer technology. It is a major data processing facility that serves the administrative needs of the university as well as its academic and research needs. Its graphics lab is equipped with about 20 workstations. Three PC labs, each with 25 workstations, are also available to students and faculty.
Students during a test.
An abundant selection of software provides an array of applications, plus specialized technical and engineering programs. Databases can be accessed on software, CD ROMs and via the Internet.
The Medical Center, another prominent building on the campus, includes a pharmacy, laboratory and an outpatient clinic, and serves the faculty and their families as well as the student body. The staff consists of internists, pediatricians, general practitioners, two dentists, two gynecologists and a cardiologist. A physician is on call 24 hours every day.
"We compare ourselves to the best engineering and business schools, internationally," says Vice Rector Abdullah Hassan Al-Abdulgader. "To maintain our standard of excellence, we conduct our own internal audits. In addition, we periodically receive delegates from other institutions and organizations abroad to review our programs."
Along with its Graduate Studies Center, the university has an Engineering Science College, Applied Engineering College, Sciences College, Computer Science and Design College, College of Business Administration and College of Environmental Design. KFUPM is one of eight universities operated by the Ministry of Higher Education.
School buses enter the main gate of the university campus.
The faculty includes prominent Saudi professors as well as distinguished educators from select American universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Princeton University, University of Michigan, California Institute of Technology, Mississippi State University, Texas A&M, Colorado School of Mines, University of Rochester and Milwaukee School of Engineering.
A consortium committee evaluates the achievement and academic performance of the university twice a year and recommends changes aimed at further enhancing the curriculum and the research and laboratory activities.
KFUPM holds several distinctions, including the fact that all of its scientific courses are taught in English in order to produce students who can compete for graduate degrees at leading engineering colleges in the world. For that reason, KFUPM has a five-year undergraduate program. During their first year, students study basic English and college-level English courses taught by about 100 native-English speakers.
Students perform a play in the auditorium.
Many of the university's graduates continue their studies at the university's Graduate College. After completing their undergraduate programs, some students continue their studies abroad to earn masters and doctorate degrees at major American private and state universities, such as MIT, Harvard, University of Colorado and several other leading engineering and business colleges. Since KFUPM does not have contracts or agreements with foreign universities, Mr. Al-Abdulgader notes, students gain entry to these institutions of higher education based solely on their academic records.
Upon completion of their studies at KFUPM, most graduates accept employment with private companies, while others begin work at Saudi Aramco. Every graduate receives an average of four job offers, according to Vice Rector Al-Abdulgader.
"In a way, we are suffering from our own success," he says. "It used to be that Saudi Aramco was the only company seeking to hire our graduates. Now many other companies approach us and come to our three-day Career Program each spring to recruit our students. Several private companies also provide scholarships to upperclassmen and give them a stipend under the condition that the student will work for the company upon graduation."
Research remains a high priority at KFUPM. Established in 1978, the Research Institute is an independent institution affiliated with the university. Its staff of more than 350 scientists and technicians undertakes comprehensive research related to the Kingdom's petroleum, mineral and water resources, in addition to its human resources. Researchers conduct studies for industry, the government and the general public. Research undertaken at KFUPM covers science, engineering, management, solar research, and socioeconomic and technical areas. KFUPM scientists have conducted far-reaching studies on water desalination, hydrogen production, solar cooling, mining, economics and industrial development, meteorology and environmental research.
All research is undertaken on a contractual basis with private companies. "We don't have an 'ivory tower' attitude. We undertake research that results in practical applications," Mr. Al-Abdulgader says. One of the most notable projects involved a team of KFUPM engineers and scientists who designed a series of six experiments that were conducted by the first Arab astronaut, Prince Sultan Ibn Salman Ibn Abdul Aziz, who was a crew member aboard the U.S. space shuttle Discovery in 1985.
Another example includes a scientific analysis of oil refineries for a Japanese organization. In yet another study, KFUPM researchers designed a water recycling system that enables a paper recycling company in Saudi Arabia to reclaim 90 percent of the water it uses for the process.
Several technical centers and about 100 laboratories with specialized staff support the research experts attached to the institute. The centers specialize in applied physical sciences, communications and computers, economics and management systems, engineering, environment conservation, petroleum, petrochemicals and minerals.
In addition to its role as an educational and research institute, KFUPM hosts several national and international conferences throughout the year. The 850-seat auditorium and related meeting rooms are equipped with state-of- the-art audio-visual facilities and a closed circuit television system. Its most recent event was a seminar jointly sponsored with the Saudi Society for Earth Sciences in October of 1998. About 300 delegates from Saudi Arabia and other countries, including the U.S., attended the three-day conference.
As Saudi Arabia's youthful population reaches college age, expansion has become another priority at KFUPM. This fall, the university opened a college in Hail, which is located in north central Saudi Arabia about 450 miles from Dhahran. About 300 students have enrolled in the new college's two-year program. It is expected to reach its ultimate capacity of 3,000 students in three to four years. The new college features a curriculum designed to prepare students interested in becoming technicians needed by the petroleum and minerals industries. Students who want to continue their studies may switch to KFUPM programs in Dhahran in their junior year. KFUPM is also considering opening colleges in other Saudi cities that presently do not have post- secondary educational institutions.
In its short 35 years, KFUPM has matured into a well-rounded academic institution offering programs in a broad range of scientific and practical disciplines to young Saudis. It's not surprising that Fortune Magazine recently called the institution, "A Jewel of a University on Arabian Sands."