Critical Investigation of Virtual Universities: Applying the UK Structure to Saudi Arabia




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


The purpose of this study was to investigate the feasibility, practicality and desirability of establishing a virtual university (VU) using new technologies in Saudi Arabia and to explore how to apply the existing VU frameworks to the Saudi Arabian education system. This is desirable in order to accommodate the rapid growth in the number of secondary school graduates, and is regarded as one of the most important challenges currently facing Saudi Universities. The study traces the origins of VUs in the UK and Europe, then examines the tools, forums and methods in use, focusing on the main service-oriented architecture and the Simple Object Access Protocol framework. Primary data were gathered by means of two sets of questionnaires, to explore the appetite for a virtual university in Saudi Arabia and to investigate the use of virtual learning in the UK. Three UK universities that strongly promote virtual learning (The Open University, the International Virtual University and Oxford University) were also researched online, providing an additional edge to the wider research on other universities. The investigation was motivated by a desire to produce a model that would widen learning opportunities for those who otherwise have no access to formal education in Saudi Arabia. The result is a virtual university model designed and developed to be a safe and secure Web-based educational system, providing online education for all, regardless of geographical position or time of day. Data were gathered mainly from secondary sources, such as journals, conference reports and books. A literature review critically assessed several technologies and protocols, and a critical comparison of Web services was conducted. Evidence from the questionnaire, the literature review and informal discussions led this researcher to pursue further the concepts of messaging technology and distributed communication, focusing on implementing JMS and a message-passing system. As a result, a chat application which utilises the publish-and-subscribe messaging model and a translator are presented and recommended as essential elements in achieving virtualisation in higher education. The thesis proposes a third-generation virtual university utilising cloud computing, offering integrated services to learners and including different types of online learning materials, specialized virtual centres for the development of educational courses, library and administrative functions, an interactive environment and online collaboration.





Research Institute