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SHIH Choon Fong's picture

I want to share with you my intention to step down as president of KAUST at the end of my term in November next year.  My President’s Circular announcing this to the KAUST community was sent this morning.  A global search for my successor will be initiated shortly, and until the next president comes on board, I shall continue to serve. 

I would also like to share my speech that was delivered on May 10 in London.  This was the Ninth Annual Lecture of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), a UK-based think tank devoted to higher education policy.  As a platform for raising issues, stimulating discussion and disseminating information, HEPI helps build bridges among people, policy-makers and educators around the world.  Founded in 2002, HEPI has been influential both in the UK and more widely having provided advice on higher education reform to 16 different governments, including Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Higher Education.  Previous speakers for HEPI’s annual public lecture include Lord Dearing, the first HEPI Chairman; Professor Robert Reich, Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration; Prince Hassan of Jordan; and Richard Levin of Yale.

My HEPI lecture, entitled “Towards a New Golden Age: Goal-Challenges at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology”, focused on KAUST in the larger context of the Kingdom.  I spoke of KAUST’s goals and challenges in working towards realizing King Abdullah’s vision for a research university renowned by global benchmarks and rooted in Saudi Arabia.


President’s Circular 2012-03

Dear Members of the KAUST Community,

I recall the day in November 2007 when my wife and I visited Saudi Arabia and stood for the first time on what was to become our home by the Red Sea. We were pondering an offer I had received to become the founding president of KAUST. Then, there was not much more than desert sand and tranquil sea. Gazing at the Red Sea in the distance, I was tantalized by the shimmering vision of what KAUST could become and achieve.

Having been involved in the conception of the University since February 2007 as a member of the founding International Advisory Council, I was very much aware of the challenges and opportunities inherent in the ambitious endeavor to build in Saudi Arabia a global research university dedicated to achieving the highest academic standards. I could see how this would be an immense challenge as well as a tremendous opportunity for potential impact in the Kingdom and for the world. This realization made the prospect of becoming KAUST’s founding president all the more compelling to me.

What a difference four years has made!

My appreciation of what it means to be in this place at this particular time in history has deepened over these four years. Since our founding faculty, staff and families moved to Thuwal, we have worked hard to address a myriad of challenges and teething pains of our young University. Our faculty have persevered in getting their research off the ground and helped raise KAUST’s global standing and reputation. You and your families have come to KAUST and contributed to our diverse and growing campus community. Together, we have created and shaped a warm and lively home on the desert sands by the Red Sea.

At the end of November 2013, I shall be completing my term as founding president. The time has come to take the first step towards passing the baton to a new president to take KAUST to the next level. To allow for adequate time for a global search for a new president, I wish to share with you my intention to step down. For continuity, I will serve until my successor comes on board.

KAUST is just beginning its challenging yet exciting journey toward achieving global excellence and taking root in a society with time-honored values and traditions. For me, helping to grow an enabling environment at KAUST for cutting-edge research and research-inspired education for the Kingdom has been a personal quest. Leading KAUST from its inception – sustaining continuity in tandem with advancing change – has been an exhilarating and sobering experience. I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to work with so many talented people who have come to KAUST with bold ambition and can-do spirit.

Much remains to be done. We need to persevere with patience and prudence to build on our current successes. We must continue to attract top-notch faculty and students from around the world to the Kingdom, especially talents with firsthand experience of the academic traditions and culture of a great university. At the same time, we want to identify and develop homegrown talents to pursue excellence in research, education and innovation. KAUST has received generous support from the Kingdom. KAUST also shares and supports the Kingdom’s aspiration to build a world-class research university rooted in Saudi society.

In the coming year and more, I look forward to working with all of you to sustain our momentum towards building peaks of excellence in research, education and innovation. We need to stay resolute to grow a distinctive KAUST culture of excellence that embraces openness with purpose, passion with focus, debate with respect, and diversity with sensitivity. Let us persevere with patience and prudence on our shared journey to build KAUST as a university that will run with the best in the global arena of research universities.

As we come to the close of the Spring Semester, I would like to wish everyone a productive and re-energizing summer. To those who are taking the opportunity to go away for meetings, conferences or a well-deserved break, may I also wish you safe travel. I look forward to our gathering again as the KAUST family when we begin our fourth academic year with our annual Academic Convocation on the first Monday in September.

Sincerely yours,

Choon Fong Shih


Wishing you all the best in your future endeavours Professor. 

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