A Saudi PhD student studying at the University of Sheffield in the UK has organized the first-ever academic forum for Saudi female students, designed to allow Saudi academics to share their experiences and achievements in the UK and Ireland, and to showcase the enormity the Kingdom’s female talent.
The inaugural forum – a landmark event that brought together over 150 undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD women students from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, currently studying in the UK and Ireland – took place at the University of Sheffield on Saturday 27 March from 9am to 6pm. The forum was co-hosted by the University of Sheffield and the Saudi Students’ Clubs and Schools – UK and Ireland, in association with the Saudi Cultural Bureau.
The forum was the brainchild of Ahlam Al-Zahrani, a PhD student from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Sheffield, in the north of England, who is conducting ethnographic research into feminine health in Saudi Arabia. She said she wanted to organize an event where all Saudi women students, living in the UK and Ireland, could get together to showcase their academic work, exchange ideas and support each other in their academic endeavours.
“There are many extremely talented professional women from my country, Saudi Arabia, studying in the UK and Ireland,” she said.
“The generosity of King Abdullah has meant that I have been able to attend the University of Sheffield, one of the UK’s best universities, and pursue my studies for the benefit of my country. His Highness has opened the doors for all women to study overseas, and has invested heavily in the education of girls and women, and Saudi women are extremely grateful.
“We want to repay his kindness by achieving our educational goals, and supporting each other on our academic journeys. Together we can collaborate towards a greater good, balancing our family responsibilities with our desire to help others in the community once we return home.”
In 2009, Ms. Al-Zahrani was elected as the Saudi Students’ Clubs and Schools Chief Female Students’ Coordinator for the UK. The Saudi Students’ Clubs and Schools in the UK and Ireland is a student organization representing all Saudi students studying in the UK and Ireland. It partners with the Saudi Cultural Bureau in London to ease the way for Saudi students wanting to study in the UK and Ireland.
In her role as Chief Female Students’ Coordinator for the UK, Ms. Al-Zahrani recognized the need for an academic forum for women from the Kingdom, as a way of getting branches of the clubs around the UK and Ireland together.
“The staff at the University of Sheffield have been so supportive of me from day one,” she said. “With their support, kindness and understanding I have been able to achieve the right balance between my doctoral studies and my family responsibilities. It’s now my turn to share my knowledge, and to support other female students from Saudi who need help; whether it be a listening ear, or someone to assess academic work. I am confident the forum will be the start of many new friendships and collaborations.”
The forum highlighted and showcased the academic and practical achievements of Saudi female students in the UK and Ireland, encouraging them to discuss what they have learned as well as providing them with an opportunity to display their research projects to an academic audience.
The forum also offered opportunities for academic discussions between female students that will enhance their studies and build strong academic relationships for the future.
Carrie Warr, Director of External Relations at the University of Sheffield, said: “The University of Sheffield is immensely proud and delighted to be co-hosting the very first academic forum for Saudi female students studying in the UK and Ireland. The University’s international students – and particularly those from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East in general – represent some of our most exceptional students. These talented students are tomorrow’s leaders, and we are honoured to be able to partner with them on their academic journey.
“The University of Sheffield prides itself on offering a cutting edge academic environment in which all our international students can enrich their lives, and make a difference when they return home. His Highness King Abdullah’s strategic plan for education, and his country’s investment in the education of women to enable them to reach the higher echelons of academia is exemplary. Saudi women studying at the University of Sheffield show commitment, passion for their subjects and a determination to excel.
“We are extremely proud of Ms. Al-Zahrani, of her dedication and energy in all she achieves at the University of Sheffield, and we would like to thank her wonderful work in organizing this landmark event, which we hope will be the first of many.”
Mr Turki BinShalhoub, President of Saudi Students' Clubs and Schools - UK and Ireland said: “We are very pleased to be part of the first academic forum for Saudi women students in the UK and Ireland at the University of Sheffield. Our organisation plays a vital role in helping students - both male and female - arriving from KSA to acclimatise themselves to life in the UK and Ireland. We support Saudi students in their quest to settle temporarily in the UK and Ireland and make the most of their studies while there. We partner with schools and clubs in the UK and Ireland, and assist where we can. We congratulate Ms. Al-Zahrani on her vision in organising this event, and were delighted to meet delegates at the forum yesterday, at the University of Sheffield.”
Ms. Al-Zahrani said the event was a great success, enabling her to share her work with others. When she returns home to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with her husband and three children – one of who was born in the UK – she wants to work towards slowly changing attitudes towards women’s health.
“I hope through my research to be able to educate doctors and nurses and the community in my country on the need for more communication. I am passionate about my work, and am excited about the chance to share my findings at the forum, with other academics from my home country who are working and studying in the UK.”
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