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Saudi Arabia's plans to harness science and technology for development were boosted last month when King Abdullah laid the foundation stone for a ten-billion riyal (US$2.6 billion) university dedicated to the subjects.

The King Abdullah Science and Technology University in Taif will have capacity for 13,000 students and will be coeducational. It will include faculties of science, medicine, pharmacology, computer science, engineering and education.

"The university will be one of the best internationally-distinguished centres of scientific research and invention," said the king at the 23 July ceremony. "It will have faculties staffed by scientists of the highest intellectual calibre drawn from different parts of the world."

He said any nation failing to achieve excellence in science and technology would be marginalised, and that the new university would bring benefits to the wider Arab and Muslim worlds.

Two days later in Baha, the king inaugurated US$138 million worth of projects including a university, technical college and a women's higher institute of technology.

Mohammed Kuchari, associate professor of microbiology at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah welcomes the moves, which he sees as the latest in a series of initiatives for developing Saudi Arabia's scientific capacity.

Kuchari says that Saudi Arabia is projected to need 100,000 university staff by 2030, but only has 40,000 today, so training future staff is a priority. He points out that the 2030 target is equal to the total number of Saudi Arabian citizens who obtained a doctorate in the past 30 years.

Next June, Saudi Arabia will announce a 25-year plan for higher education.