Saudis launch hi-tech university - 24 Sep 09

Saudi Arabia has opened the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) near Jeddah, its first co-educational university.

Authorities hope the mixed-gender centre will help modernise the kingdom's deeply conservative society.

The high-tech campus will focus on science and technology, with professors and students drawn from around the world.

The multi-billion-dollar university is being seen as an attempt by King Abdullah to promote reforms in the kingdom.

Women will also not be required to wear veils in the co-educational classes.

This is in contrast to the wider country where a strict Wahhabi branch of Islam is practised and women are completely segregated.

Hussein Shobokshi, a columnist for the Asharq Alawsat newspaper, told Al Jazeera: "It is a paradigm shift. Education is the tool for empowering this change. This is a global initiative.

"This is a very ambitious project that puts a lot of pressure on the Saudi institutions to raise the bar and meet the level of this university - culturally and ethics wise."

Al Jazeera's Sabina Castelfranco reports from Jeddah.