GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Establishment of A Women's University and Changing Aspirations of Women in Saudi Arabia
Paper Proposal Text :
Saudi Arabia has established a women's university in 2011 by uniting six women's colleges. Princess Nora Bint AbdulRahman University became Saudi Arabia’s one of flagship activities since its inauguration. Saudi Arabia's rapidly growing aspiration for women's higher education is reflected by the size of the campus, which is as large as 800ha. Because the campus is so huge, they needed to build metro for the faculty and students to move between buildings. The construction was done well in advance to Riyadh metro which is expected to complete in 2018.
For the students, they do not have to pay tuition fee. Quite the contrary to paying the tuition fee, students receive monthly allowances like other public university students. Students from distant places are given individual rooms at the brand new dormitory for free, and they receive a free meal coupon per day. As such, Saudi Arabia has been highly “generous” in higher education for the past few years. They have spent as much as 25 percent of its expenditure on education in the fiscal year 2014, and this trend seems to continue for the foreseeable future.
Various statistics indicate that the number of female university entrants grossly outnumbers male counterparts in Saudi Arabia. And in terms of the male/female ratio in university graduates, the gap gets even broadened. What Natasha Ridge calls “Reverse Gender Divide” is precisely ongoing in Saudi Arabia.
Based on this background, I am interested in why the disparity between two genders became obvious to this extent, how does this ongoing national project affects male/female students, and how it affects gendered power relations as a result.
This is particularly important when the new government program “Nitaqat (Zoning)” is taken into consideration. Nitaqat is a new program started in 2011 to increase the ratio of Saudi employees in the private companies. Any private companies are required to hire a certain percentage of Saudis according to the size of its enterprise. Within this program, Saudi government has even given advantages for companies that hire female workers when the program gets started. Although they have cancelled this affirmative action afterwards, it is the first time for the Saudi Government to introduce such policy to facilitate women to enter into labor market.
When you look back the history of Saudi Arabia, it has lagged behind in terms of women’s empowerment for many years. Influential clerics and officials opposed women’s education and labor participation throughout the 1990s, by saying women’s education and labor participation is permitted only when it conforms to Islamic teachings. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report shows how notorious Saudi Arabia’s performance has been in terms of gender equality. However, the same report 2014 evaluates Saudi Arabia as one of the countries rapidly improving its ranks for the past eight years. Then a question arises on why the Saudi government suddenly became aware of female education and their career after graduation?
This study aims to explore a juncture of government’s ongoing projects on higher education and job creation for youth, and changing women’s aspirations for study and career, based on my firsthand fieldwork research in Saudi Arabia, particularly at the Princess Nora AbdulRahman University in December 2013.