THUWAL, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabia has opened its first fully coed university where women will not have to wear veils and can mix freely with men.
The King Abdullah Science and Technology University opened Wednesday at Thuwal north of Jeddah. The institution is designed to break ground on Saudi Arabia's scientific learning ambitions and apparently soften gender segregation.
In the past, women in the notoriously gender restrictive kingdom could only take classes separately from men. Another taboo will be passed by at the new school -- women will be able to drive.
Early reaction to the university is reportedly largely positive.
"The idea behind this university, if it succeeds, is to be very pioneering because the Saudi society by nature is a closed one and if we look at universities in other countries like the United States we find them to be diverse and international, "Abdul Rahman-al Rabesh, an engineer with the company that built The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, said in an interview with the Al-Arabiya television network.
"I believe in mixed-gender education because it puts women on equal footing with men," Rabesh said.
However, there is the expected hard-line opposition to the modern multi-billion-dollar high-tech campus facing the Red Sea, the Christian Science Monitor said.
Already 817 students from 61 countries have enrolled at university, the report said.
The university is located on the Red Sea, 49 miles north of Jeddah, and was built at a cost of $10 billion. It has one of the world's fastest supercomputers and state-of-the-art 'green" technology, the report said.