Designation: Founding President, KAUST
Country: Saudi Arabia
Country of origin: Singapore
Occupation: Founding President, KAUST
Professor Choon Fong Shih is a widely recognised global leader in academic and corporate scientific research. He is also the founding president of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Jeddah, an institution that is helping to redefine opportunities for women in the kingdom.
A graduate-level research university dedicated to inspiring a new age of scientific achievement in the kingdom, KAUST is an independent, merit-based institution that has set the bar for education in the Arab world. It is also a place of learning where women are allowed to study alongside men without wearing a face covering, and even drive on campus.
Like all radical departures from the norm, KAUST has been praised as well as pilloried. The Washington Post, quoting HRH King Abdullah, described the new university as a "beacon of tolerance" on the banks of the Red Sea. Nasser Al Shithri, a member of the Supreme Council of Islamic Scholars in Saudi Arabia, condemned the university, saying it was "mixing a great sin and a great evil".
With the explicit backing of HRH King Abdullah, Professor Shih is disregarding the slurs of Islamic scholars queuing up to condemn the university. And in the process, he is enabling the emergence of an unprecedented phenomenon in the kingdom: a generation of university-educated females.