Violent clashes at the Kingdom's universities almost doubled in 2011 compared with the previous year, according to a report issued on Sunday.
Between January 1 and December 31, 2011, 58 major brawls took place on university campuses, compared to 31 in 2010, the National Campaign for Defending Students Rights (Thabahtoona) said in a report on campus violence and student freedoms.
"It is also worth noting that many of these brawls started on campuses and expanded outside universities, when in previous years, it was mostly the other way around," Zaid Hamad, a member of Thabahtoona, said at a press conference yesterday.
He said weapons, including firearms, were used in 14 of the 58 major brawls.
The cases of campus violence listed in the report as major brawls were related to tribal issues and marked by the participation of a large number of students and damage to university property, Thabahtoona Coordinator Fakher Daas explained.
Hamad noted that 90 per cent of the fights included vandalism of university property, "which indicates that students do not have a sense of belonging to their universities".
"Most of these fights start over trivial issues but end up developing into tribal clashes," he said, adding that many of those behind the brawls have been pardoned.
He told reporters that several fights recorded in 2011 were not officially reported by universities or acknowledged as cases of campus violence.
"There is a connection between the rise of popular movements in 2011 and the increased number of major fights at universities," Daas charged, claiming that "security intervention" incited tribal sentiment among students to counter the effect of pro-reformists on campuses.
"If 2011 was the year of popular movements, it was also the year of campus violence," he said.
The study also covered student freedoms at universities and community colleges between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011.
Daas said the report showed security forces continuing to interfere in universities, adding that many students who provided information to Thabahtoona requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.
He criticised the one-person, one-vote system used in university elections, noting that it produces polls based on tribal loyalties and prevents the rise of candidates with constructive agendas.
Daas called for a gradual implementation of the proportional list system, decrying "constant attempts" to dissuade students from joining political parties or forming blocs.
"If these negative practices continue, they will create a timid, uncreative generation incapable of building a country," he argued.
According to the report, some universities do not have a council or union to represent students, while others have postponed elections indefinitely.
The study recommends forming an independent general union for university and community college students.
"We stand by this report's title: There will be no actual reforms without reforming the country's higher education," Daas stressed.
"This report is not neutral; it is objective and supported with documents, but it sides with the students and their interests."