Saudis to permit co-ed nanotechnology

We’ve been critical in the past of Saudi Arabia’s policy of having women researchers in nanotechnology (and of course other fields as well) work separately from male researchers. Now King Abdullah has moved personally to fund, at the US$10 billion level, a new graduate-level university with a new policy toward women, to be advised by Stanford and UC Berkeley among others. From the San Jose Mercury News:

According to Stanford officials, King Abdullah seeks to wean Saudi Arabia from its dependence on oil and focus on intellectual development in such fields as petrochemicals and nanotechnology…

For its work, Stanford will be paid $25 million over five years, in addition to having its costs covered. Berkeley has a $28 million agreement. UC administrators said they agreed to the contract only with the assurance that women would be treated equally at the university…

KAUST officials say they are committed to creating a merit-based university that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender and race. In an extraordinary move in the conservative Islamic state, men and women will study side by side…

Although a golf course, marina and a yacht club will be offered to the faculty and students, most public entertainment, including movie theaters, will be banned. Alcohol also will be prohibited, and women must cover themselves almost completely in public and are not allowed to drive.

The new school seems unlikely to attract many women researchers from outside the Islamic world, whether in nanotech or other fields, but it should benefit those already inside the country. —Christine

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