Saudi Arabia’s education system is currently experiencing an astonishing transformation. Not only has the Saudi Government been increasing budgetary allocations in support of education and manpower development projects since 2000, but it has been increasingly opening its doors to U.S. universities, institutions, and major corporations. The Saudi Government has earmarked an estimated $11 billion worth of investment opportunities in education alone through 2020.he significant public and private effort, both local and international, will further transform Saudi Arabia’s education system, and will enable an unprecedented concentration of local talent to form and be injected directly into the Saudi economy.
According to the most recent statistics published by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, Saudi Arabia’s public education system includes 25 public and private universities in various stages of operation, some 25,000 schools, as well as a large number of colleges and other education-related institutions. The student body in Saudi universities includes local and international students from over 100 countries. The total number of students enrolled in the Kingdom’s higher education institutions for the 2004/2005 academic year stood at 603,800, while the number of newly-enrolled students exceeded 200,500 for the same period.
With an average population growth rate of 2.3 percent, Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest growing societies in the world. Moreover, a sizeable portion of its population is below the working age or close to entering the job market. To keep the unemployment rate of Saudi nationals, currently estimated at 12.02 percent, under control, the Saudi Government must not only ensure the availability of jobs but must also develop the appropriate framework to support highly qualified Saudi workers and equip them with the relevant skill set to meet the demands of a modern and booming economy. As a result, the Saudi Government is accelerating the overhaul of the Saudi education system to ensure it can provide the necessary human capital to keep up with the economic demands.
One of the most important steps the Saudi Government has been taking in this regard is to gradually increase its annual budget. This upward trend emphasizes the Saudi Government’s vision that education is the cornerstone to sustained economic development as it brings human capital and knowledge, both essential ingredients for economic growth and social cohesion. In its 2008 budget, the largest in the economic history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Government allocated $28 billion of the $120 billion budget for human resource development alone, up from $12.53 in 2002. This includes spending for higher education, technical and vocational training, teacher training, development of academic curricula, as well as allocations to boost scientific research and technological development at new research centers at universities.
The Kingdom has identified technical and administrative training as an essential sector of education to support the country’s economic and social development. Graduates of training programs in health care, agriculture, teaching and other areas are steadily filling positions at industrial, agricultural and social institutions throughout the country. The General Organization for Technical Education and Vocational Training, along with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, operates most of the Kingdom’s vocational training centers and higher institutes of technical education. The Ministry of Education operates vocational and secondary schools and several other government agencies run institutes or training centers in their particular specialties. These institutes teach, for example, machine tooling, metalworking, electro-mechanics, and auto mechanics, offering young Saudis the opportunity to learn skills that are in high demand, and courses specifically tailored to meet the needs of unemployed Saudis.
Another important institution, designed to address the country’s shortage of administrative personnel, is the Institute for Public Administration, established in Riyadh in 1961 as a semi-independent public agency. The institute provides basic as well as in-service training for civil servants carries out research and assists government agencies in administration, communication and computer sciences. Today, it has branches in Dammam and Jeddah, and a special branch in Riyadh for training women. It offers students courses in administration, law, accounting, computer science, maintenance, personnel management, secretarial skills and management planning.
King Abdullah Educational Development Program (Tatweer Project)
The Saudi Government has allocated around SAR9 billion (US$2.4 billion) for the Tatweer project and is planning to take education to new horizons to cope with transformations around the world. Teachers, students’ advisors and school principals take different courses that can enable them to deal with their students from different angles to help them succeed at all levels. The project consists of four pillars: developing teachers’ skills, developing curricula, enhancing school activities, and improving school environment. The Kingdom is trying to develop education and is employing the latest possible technology to help build Saudi citizens at all levels.
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)
KAUST’s core campus, located on the Red Sea at Thuwal, is sited on more than 36 km2 (14 sq. Mi.), encompassing a marine sanctuary and research facility. KAUST is the first mixed-sex university campus in Saudi Arabia. Within KAUST, female drivers will facilitate student and community life by driving. Saudi authorities hope the mixed-sex center will help modernize the kingdom’s deeply conservative society. The religious police does not operate on-site. Women will be allowed to mix freely with men and drive on campus, nor are they required to wear veils in the coeducational classes.
KAUST will pursue its research agenda through four strategic research thrusts that focus on areas of science and technology that are important to Saudi Arabia, the region, and the world:
• Resources, energy, and the environment,
• Biosciences and bioengineering,
• Materials science and engineering, and
• Applied mathematics and computer science.
Riyadh Women University
Riyadh Women’s University will have 13 colleges, including facilities for medicine, dentistry, nursing, naturopathy and pharmacology and a 700-bed hospital. The new university and campus, which will accommodate up to 40,000 students, aims to be the focal point for promoting education among women in the kingdom. The university also plans to focus on educational programmes that are essential to meet Saudi’s job market requirement.
Education Trade Fairs in Saudi Arabia:
The following are the leading education fairs in Saudi Arabia, usually held on an annual basis: MEETES – Education and Training Exhibition and Symposium Date: March 10-17, 2010 Saudi Arabia’s 15th International Event for Education, Training Equipment, Aids and Services (MEETES) provides a one-stop showcase for those looking for further education and training both at home and abroad. The exhibition offers not only the widest variety of domestic exhibitors but also the Kingdom’s greatest single concentration of international providers of further education, training, educational equipment and services.
Venue: Jeddah Centre for Forums & Events, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
The International Education Forum Date:
March 14-17, 2010 Saudi Arabia has been a magnet for foreign investment during the last three decades, for many reasons such as the unique location, petroleum and mineral wealth, the government’s liberal economic policies, privatization and incentive plans, and the large local market. The Saudi economy has thus witnessed big improvements in all aspects of life, including the education and training sector.
Venue: Dhahran International Exhibition Center (DIEC), Dammam, Saudi Arabia.