Saudi Arabia is a country which is renowned for its oil reserves and wealth. However, its educational system experienced a massive growth in a few years and has grown up into a relatively mature one, which is also a quite important factor for the development of Saudi Arabia and worth researching. Though several types of school units have been discussed before, the educational system of Saudi Arabia is a unique one since it demonstrates a combination of religion and knowledge. Metz, H.C. (1993) mentions, “The original goal of education in Saudi Arabia is to ensure the believers’ understanding of God’s law and live his or her life in accordance with them.” The paper is going to focus on the students abroad of Saudi Arabia, and will pay special attention to the female students. Oversea students are worth discussing because this group, to some extent, is related to the religious culture, history, international relationships and even geography.
The figure of students studying abroad experienced a drop because of the expansion of domestic university system at a relatively early stage but later presented a sharp rise. The funds offered by Saudi government is up to four years’ tuition fee and living expense, which is quite a large a sum of money. In the paper the author will discuss this issue in terms of economy, political collaborations and some other factors.
The gender issue, however, is relatively sensitive. Today, female students make up over half of the more than 6 million students currently enrolled in Saudi schools and universities. Currently there are about 25,000 female students studying abroad. Whereas the situation was not that good at the beginning, opening schools for girls met strong oppositions as some people consider female education useless and impractical. The author will discuss this issue from the history and culture of Arab, and try to find out something new from it.
General education in the Kingdom consists of kindergarten, six years of primary school and three years each of intermediate and high school. After high school, students can go to universities home or abroad.
At the most elementary level in nineteenth century, the purpose of basic religious learning was to know the contents of Holy Scripture rather than understanding the usage of Arabic, the effect of education was not that distinguished. However, later in the late nineteenth century, more subjects such as history, Arabic language, literature were included in formal class. The education later was proved effective. Statistics from Metz, H.C. (1993) pointed out, “The literacy rate of 15 percent for men and 2 percent for women in Saudi Arabia was lower only in Yemen and Afghanistan while by 1990 the literacy rate for men had risen to 73 percent and that for women to 48 percent.” Students nowadays even have boarder options which vary from commerce, art, science to computer.
As for higher education, Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC (2013) noted, “By 2014, there were 25 major public universities, a large number of vocational institutes, and a growing number of private colleges.” Currently, about 1 million students are enrolled at Saudi universities and colleges, compared to 7,000 in 1970. Since Saudi can not rely on oil export for good, the transition must be taken and it seems be a good sign at present.
Students Studying Abroad
Students will encounter international challenges from all aspects when studying abroad, including the impact of hi-technology, social conventions, language and nostalgia. For an Islamic country, the culture influence is the most concerning one.
Mordechai Abir (1988) pointed out that “Upon their return to Saudi Arabia, these graduates of foreign universities were often appointed to important positions. The wave of foreign-trained students after the mid-1970s dominated most of the middle level of civil service and government agencies.” The conservatives accused the government for its Westernization. However, the number of students studying abroad presented an increase from about 5000 in 1970 to more than 18,000 in 1985. Figures supplied by the Ministry of Economy and Planning in Saudi Arabia indicate that in January 2011, there were 107,706 Saudi students studying at universities outside the country.
Statistics shows that even faced with economic recession and the suspects from conservatives; Saudi Arabia continues sending students to foreign countries to learn advanced technologies and theories. The students are mainly funded by The King Abdullah Scholarship Program established in 2005, which covers almost all kinds of expenses abroad.
The official aim of King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP) is to develop an effective and internationally competitive workforce and a research currently being conducted by Hilal (2011) suggests that a major outcome of the KASP is to broaden the worldview of Saudi students and to provide them with opportunities for engagement with other cultures. It can be seen that the government try to make Saudi become more powerful at international status. Education is the best way to strengthen its power.
Saudi Arabia’s oil revenue experience a decline in the 1980s and the government may consider oil-export was not a permanent way to support the country. In the words of Larry Smith, “The Ministry of Higher Education contends that KASP is an attempt to expand Saudi tertiary education and to help diversify employment within the country and to lift its dependence upon the oil industry.” Education and innovations are the future of Saudi Arabia, and that’s the reason why Saudi Arabia attaches great importance to fund students.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Saudi’s government and the western countries (especially the United States) can not be neglected. The Gulf War strengthened the bond of Saudi and U.S., in which the Saudi helped America fight against Iraq. It is estimated that near 40,000 Saudi students studied in North America in 2010. Besides, the Saudi Arabia intends to eliminate the cliché and misunderstanding from the western world, which is often considered conservative, and even frequently mentioned with terrorism. Interactions are strongly desired by this Arabic country which attempts to show their hospitable nature to the world.
Larry Smith(2013) pointed out that “For the students themselves, part of the reason for the high numbers of students studying abroad is the fact that stipends are very attractive, and the prospect of studying overseas also has a growing ‘social’ appeal among Saudi youth, particularly in terms of becoming a ‘global citizen’”.
Here comes a question: how does the education system in Saudi Arabia prepare the students to study abroad?
The first one is language. Using English in teaching in an Arabic country may be difficult. “The long-term goal may well be to teach in English entirely in some (perhaps many) subject fields. A huge step has been taken in those institutions in Saudi Arabia that focus the preparatory year with a large time allocation to the explicit teaching of English.” Larry Smith (2013) wrote. The increase in using English in teaching help students get accustomed to the foreign language environment and enables them to adapt the foreign culture quickly.
Next, the educational curriculums are not restricted to religious-related courses. Mathematics, science, literature, foreign language and history are taught in Saudi schools. A variety of course laid foundations for students’ oversea study. Moreover, Saudi Arabia owns a mature application system and strict procedures. Students can always be funded by KASP or other self-funding programs, which guarantees their oversea life.
Female Students Abroad
When talking about women in Arabic world, the faces covered with black veil come into most people’s mind. Traditionally speaking, women’s status is inferior as the hardest jobs like discovering oil are done by man. The women, on the contrary, are expected to serve their husband in terms of the household affairs and sometimes do small business to earn extra income for family.
When it comes to education for woman, it faced mountainous challenges and controversy. Some conservatives consider it useless. The government decided to take a gradual approach. Before 1959 girls could only be taught in private homes while after 1959, there were public schools for female students. The public is step by step changing their view towards woman education. Statistics shows that in 1981 enrollments were 81 percent of boys and 43 percent of girls while the number of girls enrolled in the public school was almost the same as that of boys in 1989. By 2009, there were 6,855 private schools for girls educating 1,206,958 students. Great changes have been seen in this Arabic country over the past decades.
As our topic is concerning with oversea students, we may wonder the situation of female students who seeks their academic life abroad. According to Larry Smith (2013), “more than 20% of those students benefiting from overseas scholarship programs are women, who often accompany their husbands on overseas study programs and end up enrolling in degrees themselves as a way of occupying their time and seeking out company in a foreign culture.” But only a few female students gain their own scholarship and go abroad.
An interesting phenomenon shows that women often perform better than men in academic field. In 1990s, the Fifth Development Plan projected 45,000 female secondary school graduates in 1995 and only 38,000 male graduates. Even during oversea study, wife somehow does better than husband. So what’s the reason? We can learn from the Saudi’s culture that women actually undertake heavier duty since they are obliged to give consideration to both career and family. During oversea study, women are easier to uproot and adapt into the new life and men, besides the self-esteem of a traditional Arabic man makes them harder to blind into new culture. When given the opportunity to receive education, women will put their carefulness and preciseness on academic researches and often gain better results.
Education in Saudi Arabia experiences a rapid expansion during the past decades. The government’s efforts can not be neglected as the policy-makers attach great importance to education and the educational expenditure takes up 22.7% of the total budgetary outlays by 2014. The enrolment is 49.7%, which is just slightly lower than 50% in the U.S. The government’s strong support contributes most in such a great achievement.
The number of students studying abroad presents a substantial growth, too. Saudi demands internationally competitive workforce and advanced technology to better serve their country, hence they founded KASP to fund students. The traditional culture may be impacted by western ones, but the effects are satisfying.
The perceptions of Saudi society have changed and female students are offered diverse educational programs. They can even participate in an international program. The inequality is eliminating in the field of education and it is surely a good sign.
In summary, the educational system in Saudi Arabia is mature but still needs improvements. For those students studying abroad, cultural interaction is the biggest problem and the government can establish programs to help them.
Abir, M. (1988). Saudi Arabia in the Oil Era: Regime and Elites: Conflict and Collaboration. Croom Helm.
Metz, H.C. (1993). Saudi Arabia: a country study/Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. Supt. of Docs., U.S. G.P.O.
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC (2013). Retrieved from https://www.saudiembassy.net/about/country-information/education/
Smith, L. (2013). Higher Education in Saudi Arabia: Achievements, Challenges and Opportunities Series: Higher Education Dynamics, Vol. 40. Springer.