The Business Year

Dr. Khaled S. Al-Sultan

SAUDI ARABIA - Health & Education

Up & Early

Rector, KFUPM


Khaled S. Al-Sultan, a Professor of Systems Engineering, holds a BS (1985) and MS (1987) in Systems Engineering from King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (KFUPM), another MS (1990) in Applied Maths, and a PhD (1990) in Industrial and Operations Engineering (Operation Research) from the University of Michigan. Dr. Al-Sultan was appointed Rector of KFUPM in May 2003. Before this appointment, he served as the Deputy Minister for Educational Affairs at the Ministry of Higher Education, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for five years. Earlier, he was the Dean of the College of Computer Science & Engineering (September 1996-August 1998) and Chairman of the Systems Engineering Department (June 1993-August 1996) at KFUPM.

Could you speak about the involvement of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s economy? Right from the onset of the oil industry, […]

Could you speak about the involvement of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s economy?

Right from the onset of the oil industry, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) was established in 1963 to support the sector by providing it with scientists, engineers, and business majors. It started with a two-year diploma for people to complete their BS degree from the US. Three years down the road, it offered BS degrees and then Masters and PhD level studies. Now, we are a fully-fledged, applied science university that supports not only the energy industry, but also the petrochemical and power industries. Today, we have more than 30,000 alumni who hold leading positions in the private and public sectors. More than 50% of Saudi Aramco’s professionals are our alumni, and a similar percentage applies to SABIC. The president of the Saudi Electricity Company (SEC) is one of our former alumni. We are producing leaders rather than just employees. We also operate the Dhahran Techno Valley, which is a major hub for oil, gas, and petrochemical research and development in the region.

How are you working to meet the demand for Saudi professionals in the economy?

At times of high and low employment, we never had problems. During times of fierce competition, we remain number one in the market, with our competitors in distant second. I think we prepare our graduates well. Our model for undergraduates emphasizes experience and not just education. We really emphasize knowledge, skills, values, and behavior, and we do this through multiple programs, including extracurricular activities, study abroad and visitation programs, and cooperative summer training. In addition to that, most of our students reside at the university. Meaning, at the time of graduation, our students are well prepared to join the workforce and they are very sought after by employers. As a matter of fact, they don’t even wait for them to graduate. We have 200 students sponsored by SABIC and 200 sponsored by Saudi Aramco, and this happens either in the first, second, or third year of their education. While we always watch what our competition in the higher education sphere is doing, we remain extremely confident that our students are the best, especially because we recruit top graduates directly from high schools. We pick the top 2% from the high schools. Our share of the top students—4,000 in total—is almost 40%, while the other 60% are distributed through other universities.

How do you structure the curriculum to integrate both soft and hard skills?

We always emphasize the fact that our curriculum is accredited by international agencies, especially those from the US, in particular. Soft skills are important and we emphasize personal skill programs where, right from day one, we ensure that students experience teamwork and develop presentation and communication skills. We also introduce experiential learning, whereby during their program they study real life problems. KFUPM’s students are heavily involved in extracurricular activities, such as media, sports, or technical clubs, where they can practice some of these soft skills. There is no specific recipe for this, but through integrated programs we emphasize the hands-on introduction of these skills, and we are able to build these key life skills. People always talk about skills and knowledge, but values and behavior are equally important. For example, discipline is extremely important for us. About 25% of our classes are at 7.00 am and 8.00 am. We want our students to be there every morning to develop this skill. We make sure that our students return their homework and attend classes. These are the kinds of things that are not necessarily important by themselves, but are important to prepare a graduate for the workforce.



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