In 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia created the Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) in Riyadh, the largest women’s university in the world. The article, “This gorgeous campus is the world’s largest women’s university – and it’s in Saudi Arabia,” highlights the many design features of the 32 million square foot university.
The campus includes sporting facilities, a medical center, research centers and a K-12 school and because of its architectural design, women are permitted to de-veil on the campus. The buildings were designed to meet the structural needs of modern learning with an emphasis on flexible space and environments that are conducive to team-based learning. The university’s design combines modern design elements with a traditional aesthetic to ensure that women can learn in an environment that respects cultural practice.
While the university is celebrated as a symbol of Saudi Arabia’s push for improved female education, simply providing high quality education does not immediately lead to change for women in the workforce. Abeer Allam in the article “Saudi Arabia’s women graduate’s hit ‘walls of tradition,’http://www.fastcoexist.com/3020619/this-gorgeous-campus-is-the-worlds-largest-womens-university-and-its-in-saudi-arabia#1” highlights to challenges that face female university graduates in Saudi Arabia. Despite a recent emphasis on increased female participation in the economy, he explains that “educated women, whether graduates of local or overseas universities, face a daunting mismatch between their skills and available jobs when they return home or leave education.” Often times, female graduates are not hired due to traditional cultural norms, as well as the high cost to employ women due to gender segregation accommodations that companies must implement. In order for women to become fully integrated into the economy, steps must be taken to ensure they are employed.
The article further explains that Saudi Arabia is increasingly emphasizing female education as a means for modernization and economic diversification. While the idea of modernization is typically viewed as a positive step for development, we must tread with caution to make sure that modernization is not a movement to become more western. PNU, in its architectural design and services, seems to be providing students with a quality education that considers local practices, though despite this, women continue to face issues with unemployment. Hopefully, by equipping females with marketable skills and knowledge, PNU will serve as a catalyst for change by enabling women to become not only employed, but at a level that matches their training.
Too often education and literacy (which can encompass a broad range of skills) are viewed as a panacea for change. While improving girls’ access to education is critical, education is simply a means for achieving change. Education enables change, but does not automatically fix problems. In the case of Saudi Arabia, by establishing a world-class female university, the country is taking a step towards increased female opportunity in the formal economy. As Schwartz stated, “PNU is both beautiful and a place from which larger things might spring.” If Saudi Arabia truly wants increased female participation in the formal economy, further steps must be taken to make their education worthwhile.
Allam, Abeer (2013, October 20). Saudi Arabia’s women graduate’s hit ‘walls of tradition.’ The Financial Times. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fd900f22-1af5-11e3-87da-00144feab7de.html#axzz2jsaaBwnA.
Schwartz, Ariel (2013, October 29). This gorgeous campus is the world’s largest women’s university – and it’s in Saudi Arabia. Co.Exist. Retrieved from http://www.fastcoexist.com/3020619/this-gorgeous-campus-is-the-worlds-largest-womens-university-and-its-in-saudi-arabia#3