Autonomous universities offer distinctive advantages to Saudi Arabia

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RIYADH – In view of the new regulations on universities, the Saudi Ministry of Education (MoE) has contemplated a substantial change in the higher education system by granting disciplined autonomy to universities in developing their academic, financial, and administrative.

Universities will need to be ready for this level of significant change as they have had the opportunity to define their own strategic direction and their own organizational ways of working. However, with this freedom comes responsibility. University leaders will be held accountable for adopting new policies, determining a future distinctive position within the higher education system, and creating a level of financial resilience that will allow them to take advantage of all the benefits and opportunities of a stand-alone model, according to a new KPMG publication titled “Distinctiveness – The Future of Higher Education in Saudi Arabia”.

The publication aims to explore trends and critical factors for the future success of an autonomous higher education system in Saudi Arabia. It illustrates the issues raised by the shift from supply-driven to demand-driven strategies, digital ways of working and the age of the learner as a customer.

Universities can now formulate their specializations and programs according to the development needs and employment opportunities in the regions under their jurisdiction.

Embracing this changing operating environment will require a paradigm shift from the delivery of centrally funded education to universities dedicated to education.

“Universities in Saudi Arabia are at a crossroads. The new mandate to transform universities into autonomous organizations presents some challenges on the one hand, but many opportunities on the other,” commented Ziad Zakaria, senior director at KPMG in Saudi Arabia.

Universities will now have more opportunities to drive their own strategic intent around who and what they want to be known and to advance their purpose within the academic ecosystem, he added.

In this newly created autonomous market, universities in the Kingdom must question what they are currently doing and develop a strategic intent to make it an operational reality. This, in turn, will drive them to become distinct and relevant places in the international higher education landscape.

The journey towards a self-sustaining, self-sustaining and resilient higher education sector will not be without challenges. This will require considerable effort, flexibility and resilience from leaders at all levels within the ministry and universities.

KPMG has built a framework to bring together some of the critical success factors in a university’s evolution and success towards building a self-sustaining higher education ecosystem. This framework consists of six interrelated design principles built around a 6R framework, including a redesigned strategy, a redesigned academic portfolio and student experience, rejuvenated academic programs, updated and strengthened institutional governance, realignment and redesign the university’s operating model and income diversification.

“Higher education institutions need to prepare, develop and implement strategies for change in order to be ready to lead this process of fundamental and possibly radical transformation,” Zakaria stressed.

The publication further suggests that a strategic framework should be put in place, defining the core strategic themes, broken down into institutional goals, objectives and key performance indicators, and all decisions made should be referred to these strategic themes and objectives of base.

The next step is to redevelop the university’s operating model to become digital, streamlining structures, processes, policies and procedures. This develops a sustainable funding mechanism where universities have a financially sustainable operating model for funding world-class teaching and research – placing investment at the point of delivery to benefit students, creating employable graduates and providing world-class research that sets the university apart from others.

A clear transformation strategy and execution plan to guide the university to the future strategic and operational position will be needed to achieve this.

“If we are to achieve Vision 2030 and its far-reaching goals, we must turn political and strategic intent into operational reality,” Zakaria concluded.

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