Educating Saudi Women

By Loveland, Elaina | International Educator, January/February 2016 | Go to article overview

Educating Saudi Women


Loveland, Elaina, International Educator


Educating Saudi Women

An interview with Haifa Jamal Al-Lail, president of Effat University, a women's university in Saudi Arabia

HAIFA JAMAL AL-LAIL, a native of Saudi Arabia, joined Effat University in 1998 and began her tenure as president in May 2008. She was named one of 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 and is the winner of the Distinguished Arab Woman Award in 2005. A respected author and researcher, she is well known for her expertise in privatization and empowerment of women. She is the author of a number of articles and has developed and taught undergraduate and graduate courses on topics such as public administration and public policy.

Before joining Effat University, Al-Lail was the first dean of girls' campus in King Abdulaziz University. She was a visiting scholar at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2001. She participated in the Summer Institute for Women in Higher Education Administration at Bryn Mawr College in 2000. She received a PhD in public policy from the University of Southern California (USC).

IE: Can you describe Effat University and how you became its president?

HAIFA JAMAL AL-LAIL: Effat University is a private nonprofit institution in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It started in 1999 with the vision of Queen Effat, the wife of the late King Faisal. She was really a leader in education. She's the one who established the first female high school in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I'm also a graduate of that. The name of the school is Dar al-Hanan School. It was established in 1955. From that time until 1999, when the government started to give licensing to the private sector to open higher education institutions, she applied to the king at that time (not her husband). It was another king, King Fahd, who gave her the license.

Effat University was started with only two majors-computer science and information systems. It was established only for women and had 37 students, two faculty, and one dean. I wasn't the dean at that time. I was a special adviser to Princess Lolowah, the daughter of the queen, who was running and is still running the institution until now. We had only six months to open the whole institution.

My own education in the kingdom and abroad helped me become president of Effat University. I also came to the United States and studied at the University of Southern California, and then came back to Saudi Arabia and taught and did some administrative work at King Abdullah University. The princess and the queen knew about me, and they invited me to be the president. Especially also I'm a graduate of the Dar al-Hanan School, which has the same traditions and culture, same mentality of thinking.

IE: How has Effat University grown since it was first established?

HAIFA JAMAL AL-LAIL: We began from those two departments and it was a college at that time in 1999, until 2009, then we became a university. Now we're a university with four colleges, 17 programs, and 3,000 students.

IE: What are the opportunities for education for girls and women in Saudi Arabia and how does Effat University fill this need?

HAIFA JAMAL AL-LAIL: What we're famous for is offering women opportunities that were never offered before in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We offer engineering for the first time for Saudi women because the colleges and the universities in the kingdom teach them only the business, the social sciences, but never had the chance to offer engineering as a subject for women. So we're the first institution to offer that for the Saudi woman.

IE: What makes Effat University unique in Saudi Arabia?

HAIFA JAMAL AL-LAIL: There are a number of public universities and they do offer education for women. But the women's campuses are separate campuses. And it's always the men who are controlling the women's campus from the administrative point of view.

We are by women, for women, of women. We were founded by a woman. …

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