A key part of the debate in Saudi Arabia’s education system is focused on the need to match sector outcomes with the requirements of the labour market. Indeed, the Kingdom’s long-term development plan, Vision 2030, explicitly references this issue. Such a view will require close cooperation between educational institutions and the private sector across the board.
Traditionally, the link between education and the world of work has been more directly supplied by the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) sector. This area has seen major growth in recent years, a trend that is likely to continue. Indeed, key performance indicators in the National Transformation Programme (NTP) – the Kingdom’s developmental plan up to 2020 – include boosting the proportion of high school graduates who continue their education in TVET from 7% to 12.5%, with the number of students enrolled rising from 104,000 to 950,000.
Indeed, TVET’s ability to deliver outcomes beyond graduation day is key, as businesses and government services attempt to stay abreast of technological and methodological changes. Figures from the General Authority for Statistics (GaStat) show that the number of technical institutes and training colleges grew from 53 in the 2012/13 academic year to 86 in 2015/16. The fastest growth over the same period was in technical colleges for girls (from 17 to 35) and strategic partnership institutes (from 12 to 24), while the overwhelming majority of technical facilities were private training institutes, which grew from 967 to 969.
On the vocational side, some 65 institutions were listed for the 2015/16 academic year, according to GaStat, with a total of 17,253 trainees enrolled and 4390 graduating that year.
Data from the General Organisation for Technical Educational and Vocational Training – now known as the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) – put the total number of students in its programmes at 111,839, with 99,778 males and 12,061 females.
TVET institutions in the Kingdom all come under the authority of the TVTC, a government agency that acts as an umbrella organisation for colleges, institutes, vocational training centres and the private organisations that are accredited to it. Additionally, the TVTC connects with TVET colleges abroad, forming partnerships to attract institutions into the Kingdom. It also works with local businesses to ensure a closer correlation between courses and the requirements of local businesses, and aims to provide students with real-world experience via job placements.
In June 2017 Ahmed Alfahaid, governor of the TVTC, told local media the agency had signed agreements with businesses to recruit more than 10,500 students from “strategic cooperation” institutes. These bodies offer training in mechanics, public utilities, tourism and a variety of other vocational areas, with business recruitment numbers set to increase. The NTP is targeting an increase in the number of partnerships with the private sector in the area of training from 21 to 35 by 2020.
In terms of international partnerships, the Colleges of Excellence programme allows global institutions to set up Saudi branches via a public-private partnership model. Participants include institutes from Japan, such as Nippon Engineering College of Hachioji partnering with the Saudi Electronics and Home Appliances Institute, and the UK, where Lincoln College Group in June 2017 won a £58m ($78m) three-year contract to run an applied engineering college in the country.
Work-based education to advance the skills of public employees is provided by the Institute of Public Administration (IPA), a semi-independent public agency established by royal decree in 1961 to provide training specifically for civil servants. The IPA offers both short and long-term courses and has branches in Riyadh, Damman and Jeddah, including a special women’s training branch in the capital.
There are also military vocational training institutes, which bring the TVTC together with the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the National Guard and the Ministry of Interior to provide specialist technical and military training as part of a single programme. Some 10,000 trainees per year take part in these schemes, with trainees housed in barracks, and provided with meals and a monthly allowance.
The Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) has a key role to play in the country’s Saudiisation programme – a scheme that aims to increase the number of nationals in the country’s workforce. In this regard it runs several initiatives with private actors, including the TAQAT employment support programme and the National Labour Gateway (NLG). TAQAT provides financial support, which can include the subsidising of the salaries of teachers working in the private sector, or paying a monthly subsidy to employers who hire Saudis for a 24-month period, for example. The NLG serves as an online portal providing job seekers with information about employment opportunities and training programmes, doubling as a body that facilitates job applications.
To assist women entering the workforce, the Women’s Employment in the Retail Sector initiative provides training for women in the retail industry. Its creation follows a 2011 ruling that stipulates all shops catering to women must only have female staff.
Meanwhile, education planners and policymakers are also looking at ways to tie the higher education sector more closely to the requirements of business – and of the Kingdom’s long-term development. This may mean major changes to the curriculum, moving it towards more practical, more private sector-oriented activities, with an emphasis on field work in preference to class work.
This approach is translating into a shift away from less technical and less practical subjects and departments towards those that have clearer labour market applications. As a result, there has been a need to involve the private sector more closely in the development of courses and curricula, with government bodies searching for the best ways to implement this balance. In the past the Ministry of Education has looked at other countries for examples on how to move graduates into particular professions; however, this may fail to address the specific requirements of the Kingdom. Providing universities and higher education institutions with accurate local labour market data is key, with some industry figures calling for increased private sector participation on university boards to achieve this.
At the same time the Saudiisation programme is encouraging young nationals to enter the private sector. Previously, many Saudis would aspire to land a public sector job after graduation or leaving secondary education. However, the future envisaged by Vision 2030 is very much one in which the private sector is to be the main economic driver – with government departments and the public sector in general building an education system aligned with the market’s needs.
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