RIYADH/DUBAI: Given the new Universities Bylaw, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education (MoE) has envisioned a substantial change in the higher education system by granting disciplined autonomy to universities in framing their academic, financial, and administrative regulations.
Universities will need to be ready for this significant level of change as they have been granted the opportunity to set their own strategic direction and organisational ways of working. However, with this freedom comes accountability. 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 allow them to leverage all the benefits and opportunities of an autonomous model, this 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 future success in an autonomous higher education system in Saudi Arabia. It illustrates the issues raised in the shift from supply to demand-led strategies, digital ways of working, and the age of the learner as a customer.
Universities can now formulate their specializations and programs in accordance with the development needs and job opportunities in the regions that come under their jurisdiction. Embracing this changing operating environment will require a paradigm shift from centrally funded delivery of education to universities being in the business of 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’s firm in Saudi Arabia.
Universities will now be given more possibilities to drive their own strategic intent around who and what they want to be known for and move their purpose forward within the academic ecosystem, he added.
In this newly created autonomous market, the Kingdom’s universities must challenge what they currently do and develop a strategic intent to deliver this into an operational reality. This, in turn, will lead them to become distinct and relevant places within the international higher education landscape.
The journey to an autonomous self-reliant and resilient higher education sector will not be without challenges. It will take considerable effort, flexibility and resilience by leadership at all levels within the ministry and the universities.
KPMG has constructed a framework to draw together some of the critical success factors in a university’s evolution and success toward building an autonomous higher education ecosystem. This framework consists of six interrelated design principles built around a 6R framework, including reimagined strategy, reimagined academic portfolio and student experience, a rejuvenated academic programs, refreshed and strengthened institutional governance, realigning and redesigning the university operating model and revenue diversification.
“Higher education institutions need to prepare, develop and implement strategies for change so that they are ready to lead this fundamental and possibly radical transformation process,” emphasized Zakaria.
The publication further suggests that a strategic framework should be set up, defining the core strategic themes, broken down into institutional goals, objectives, and key performance indicators, and all decisions made should be referred back to these core strategic themes and objectives.
The next step is to redevelop the university operating model to become digitally enabled, with streamlining structures, processes, policies, and procedures. This develops a sustainable funding mechanism where universities have a financially sustainable operating model to fund world-class teaching and research – putting investment at the point of delivery for the benefits of students, creating employable graduates and delivering world class research that makes the university distinctive from others.
A clear transformation strategy and execution plan to guide the university to the future strategic and operating position will be required to achieve this.
“If we are to achieve Vision 2030 and its wide-ranging objectives, we must turn policy and strategic intent into operational reality,” Zakaria concluded.