KAUST builds on success in AI to expand training to meet Saudi workforce demand

Education and Training Evaluation Commission (ETEC) employees attending the “Basics of Artificial Intelligence” workshop, jointly organized by the KAUST Academy and ETEC. Photo: KAUST

​Since launching its pilot Lifelong Learning Initiative this spring in Riyadh, KAUST has seen high demand for its training in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Designed to prepare a growing Saudi workforce in a fast-moving, tech-driven world, the program delivers certificates through a series of short courses in cutting-edge topics. The initiative, rebranded under the name KAUST Academy, is now expanding and building on its success with a growing portfolio of STEM-based course offerings and trainings, and new partnerships designed to boost the labor market in both the public and private sectors. 

Commenting about the inception and mission of KAUST Academy, KAUST Provost Larry Carin said, "The KAUST Academy is a first for us in several ways. It is bringing the best of KAUST to people around the Kingdom, delivering education in a very accessible way that allows participants to develop the skills required to be competitive in work and in higher education."

The format of the Academy – with courses delivered over several days in cities around the country – addresses the Kingdom's broader need for upskilling and training, rooted in KAUST's high-quality standards. 

"We listened to a lot of stakeholders and worked hard to get the mix right – from mode of delivery to cutting-edge course content, to real-world relevance," Carin added. "The demand and number of applicants we have seen is extraordinary. There is a significant appetite for what we are doing, and we are proud to be able to serve this need." 

 The KAUST Academy leverages the University's global expertise, with input from high caliber faculty such as world-renowned AI expert Professor Jurgen Schmidhuber, director of the KAUST Artificial Intelligence Initiative; and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Gilles Lubineau, who is also a KAUST dean and the director of the Saudi Arabian Society for Composite Material; as well as partners in industry, government and business. Programs under the Academy are free for students and open to Saudi nationals and residents with a variety of background skills, ranging from recent graduates to business professionals to corporate executives. 

Professor Sultan Albarakati, one of the leaders of STEM education in the Kingdom, has been appointed the director of the Academy. Talking about his vision for the KAUST Academy, Albarakati said, "Our goal is to reach out and contribute to the growth of the rapidly transforming economy of the Kingdom. We will provide quality training across academia and industry to help the Kingdom's workforce meet the demand of Vision 2030 and Vision 2050."

KAUST Senior Lecturer Alexandra Gomes presenting a lesson on "Mathematics for Artificial Intelligence" at the "Basics of Artificial Intelligence" workshop jointly organized by the KAUST Academy and ETEC. Photo: KAUST

AI and machine learning are topics of significance to the Kingdom because they improve efficiency, decision-making and performance in priority areas like security, medicine, data analysis and digital communications. KAUST Academy curriculum also factors in other key topic areas, with input from government, corporate and industry leaders aligned with the Kingdom's objectives. KAUST Academy courses also include cybersecurity, bioinformatics, materials science, applied and computational mathematics and business analytics. Two more courses are slated for release in early 2023 — one on sustainability, and one on the internet of things (IoT) and robotics — global themes that advance Saudi Arabia's ambition to diversify its economy. 

The Academy's classes are packaged as a series of hands-on, micro-courses for small groups, and delivered in three-day workshops that integrate experiential learning. With the completion of each course, attendees receive a professional certificate that they can use to stand out in an increasingly competitive workforce. Centered in Riyadh, the Academy also offers courses in Jeddah and the Eastern Province. 

KAUST Academy's partners include the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence (SDAIA), Saudi National Cybersecurity Authority (NCA), Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF), King Faisal Specialist Hospital (KFSH), Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), Aramco, and Saudi government ministries, among other entities. Partner contributions range from program development and facilities to vocational training strategies and a network of business affiliates and participants.

KAUST Academy courses can be tailored for a particular partner — matching KAUST expertise to different areas of specialization based on the partner's needs. One example was the "AI for chemists" course created for Aramco. Instead of providing generic AI training, the course was specifically designed for AI applications to chemistry with examples and datasets from real-life chemistry applications.

KAUST Academy students discuss material learned at an AI workshop in Riyadh. Photo: KAUST

Since May 2022, the KAUST Academy has offered six programs, including three summer camps; engaged 20 universities; and welcomed participants from 12 cities across the Kingdom. Seventy percent of the Academy's students are women.  The Academy aims to train about 2,000 students by the end of 2022 — approximately triple the current enrollment. An employee at King Saudi University (KSU) who took the course said she found so much value in what she learned that she is now supporting the dissemination of the course at KSU through the Center for Innovation in STEM Education Research. As a result of her advocacy, the KAUST Academy will now deliver two additional programs inside KSU.

Highlighting the importance of the KAUST Academy as part of KAUST's outreach, Carin said, "KAUST Academy training is one of the many ways KAUST is helping raise the level of scientific and technical knowledge in the Kingdom. Our courses are equipping and empowering Saudis, whether youth, women or executives seeking to gain new skills.  We are inclusive, but also selective in our criteria. We want to graduate those who are committed to giving their very best to the Kingdom."

For more information and to learn about the courses being offered this fall, please email