Posted on: Monday 20 August, 2012 12:42
|Scholarships to propel Saudi development
Saudi Arabia’s international scholarship program, launched when King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, took the throne in 2005, is a key part of his efforts to equip future generations in handling the Kingdom’s main challenges including a fast–growing population.
The Saudi government invests SR9 billion in King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP) each year, and this provides full funding for 125,000 students – for both undergraduate and graduate programs abroad. Half of these students are in the US, said James B. Smith, the US ambassador to Riyadh.
Saudi scholarship winners studying at colleges across the United States now form the third–largest group of foreign students, after Chinese and Indians.
KASP’s stated goal is to prepare Saudi nationals to replace expatriate workers in better-paid technical jobs in the Kingdom, reducing unemployment.
This year, the scholarship program has about 130,000 young people studying around the world, at an estimated cost of at least $5 billion (SR18.36 billion) since the program began.
The Kingdom will need an educated middle class, economists say, if it is to build a productive private sector and create jobs for millions of young Saudis.
Unlike many international students who study in the US, most Saudi youth return to their home country after receiving their degrees, said Smith, the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia since 2009.
At a pivotal meeting in 2005 at the former president George W. Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, King Abdullah told Bush that the education program was crucial for the two countries’ long-term relationship.
Mody Alkhalaf, director of social and cultural affairs at the Saudi Cultural Mission in Washington, has explained that scholarship students were not just studying, but learning about the societies of their host countries and “breaking stereotypes and building bridges.”
King Abdullah wanted young Saudis “to know the world and for the world to know them,” she said.
Many of the Kingdom’s top businessmen, academics and other figures owe their educations to Western institutions.
Bandar Al-Showair, 29, an executive manager at a large telecom company, one in the first batch of students to be sent abroad under the King Abdullah scholarship program in 2005 and did a masters in information technology in North Carolina, said “when I compare myself to those who have not studied abroad, you can see the difference,” he said.
“It’s not about getting the degrees, it’s about getting the culture and the new ideas and new ways of life.”
Saudi Arabia sends 130,000 students abroad each year. Half go to America, tens of thousands come to Britain and a small but growing pool – still in the hundreds rather than thousands – head to China.
The government invest in them in the hope of turning their revenues from oil, a diminishing resource, into human capital to grow a more durable, knowledge-based economy.
Back in Saudi Arabia, many students who have graduated abroad and returned express satisfaction at settling back in with families and jobs and repaying their country with hard work. – SG/Agencies