Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Walter L. Burt

Second Advisor

Dr. Patricia Reeves

Third Advisor

Dr. John Mark Rainey


University experiences, emerging university, university administrator, Saudi universities, leading new university, leading development process


For several decades, Saudi higher education comprised seven to eight public universities concentrated in the main cities of the country. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has heavily invested in the higher education sector. Thus, it witnessed a remarkable rate of expansion from 8 to 28 higher education institutions during a relatively short period between 2003 and 2013. This renaissance in the sector involved several different processes, including transforming, merging, restructuring, and establishing new colleges and/or programs, administrative posts, and key components for inclusive and modern campuses.

From a contextual perspective, there is a paucity of research that investigates issues surrounding the expansion of Saudi public universities and how key university leaders responded to this development and transformation. Therefore, the overall purpose of this study is to explore how university leaders describe their experiences in leading the development and transformation of emerging Saudi public universities. Specifically, this study explored (a) participants’ experiences leading the development process of their emerging universities, (b) key success factors that assisted university leaders in advancing their new universities, (c) major challenges faced by administrators in leading the development process, and (d) concerns or opinions university administrators had about the process they went through.

A sample of 15 university administrators, who were directly involved during the time their respective institutions were undergoing development and transformation, were included in this study. Utilizing a combination of phenomenological approach and inductive thematic analysis, seven themes and 17 sub-themes emerged and were referenced by at least 12 (or 80%) of the participants. The voices of the participants revealed that they exhibited the leadership in a participatory manner when advancing their emerging institutions. Based upon their experiences, the following sub-themes describe the leadership practices university administrators used in leading the development of their new universities: (a) creating a safe climate for taking initiative and expressing opinions, (b) engaging talent and harnessing their potential, (c) promoting delegation of responsibilities, (d) building teams, (e) changing employees’ attitudes for successful outcomes, (f) utilizing flexible procedures for decision-making, and (g) establishing accountability and transparency.

The study also found several key success factors that assisted administrators in leading their emerging universities. These success factors included the roles played by mother universities, national and foreign academic partnerships, and the abundant financial support from the Saudi government. In contrast, the major challenges faced by university administrators were the lack of qualified faculty available to assume university positions during the expansion process, logistical concerns that were created due to university locations, and the complex nature of the required change. Finally, upon reflecting on their experiences, university leaders expressed several hindsights they received after having gone through this ambitious development and transformation. This study concludes with recommendations to guide future university developers.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access