I had been invited to give a talk on my study of change in a university (see below). I was worried that what I had to say about change and innovation in an English university would not translate into what seemed to me to be a very different culture of higher education. But when I asked this question I was told by the Dean of Development and a number of university teachers that they recognised the factors and conditions that were relevant to change and innovation in their universities. I was greatly relieved and also pleased that what I had discovered were some universal principles that might be applied to universities in any higher education system so that was important learning for me.
I learnt that Saudi Arabia is growing its university system very quickly (someone said 26% of GDP was going into higher education). What was clear was that university teachers are grappling with the same issues in developing more engaging and relevant forms of learning as university teachers in the UK and elsewhere. The same sorts of topics were being covered - e-learning, e-portfolios and social networking, project based learning and problem based learning and many other progressive forms of learning activity. Amongst the many excellent contributions was a presentation given by a medical educator Dr Ammar Attar Umm al-Qura , who is pioneering a lifewide approach in the medical curriculum. (Students undertake a project of their choice that must relate to their personal interests and passions and then put on an exhibition for the benefit of staff and students. Students were motivated to produce books, films, poems and many different artefacts and through their creativity they connected their products to the medical disciplinary field. A great example of LWE in action. Dr Attar kindly agreed to join our community and represent LWE in the Kingdom.
The one thing that felt very strange was the fact that men and women sat in different conference theatres that were linked through sound and projection.. Interestingly, the women could see us but we could not see them. It was my first experience of this form of segregation and it felt very strange though of course I respect that this is deeply cultural.
I take home with me many happy memories and several new friendships that I hope will be continued.