A central pillar of Saudi Arabia’s drive to become a knowledge-based economy over the last 10 years has been the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme (KASP). In the budget for 2015, the Ministry of Finance announced that SR22.5bn ($6bn) had been allocated for the year to fund 207,000 Saudi citizens living abroad, including the scholars and their dependents and guardians. The sum represented 2.5% of the entire national budget and more than 10% of the allocation for education. It did not include scholarships given to employees of government institutions whose education is paid for by other departments. The number of students benefitting from international scholarships has grown significantly since KASP was created in 2005.
The competition for places is intense, and qualifying students must study on specific courses offered by approved institutions. Scholars are studying in 23 countries. In Europe, there are KASPapproved courses in the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Turkey. In Asia, Saudi students are studying in Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia and India. KASP scholars are also on courses in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. However, the US is by far the most popular destination. According to a 2014 study by Charles Taylor and Wasmiah Albasri of Edgewood College, published in the US Open Journal of Social Sciences, prior to 2005 there were fewer than 5000 Saudi students studying in the US, but by the 2013/14 academic year over 100,000 Saudi students were enrolled at US colleges and universities. Taylor and Albasri say that while traditionally many Saudi students enrolled at colleges near Washington DC, California has become the most popular state for KASP scholars with more than 11,000 studying there. Cleveland State University in Ohio was the most popular individual institution, with 700 Saudi students attending courses in 2013/14. According to the US Department of Commerce, Saudi students contributed $3.2bn to the US economy in the 2013/14 academic year alone.
The “National Indicators and International Comparisons” report published by the Ministry of Higher Education in 2014 showed increases in the proportion of KASP students studying subjects that might have a direct impact on the economy. From 2009 to 2013 the proportion of scholarship students taking courses in social sciences, law and business increased from 28.1% to 33.7%, while an additional 38.1% of KASP scholars were taking courses in science, engineering and technology by 2013. The programme is also designed to produce scholars who can teach in Saudi Arabia’s growing number of universities.
Each year Saudi Arabian students studying in the US are targeted at a jobs fair organised by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, based just outside Washington DC. In May 2015, 130 companies had stands at the event and 14,000 graduates were expected to attend. Organisers said 4000 job vacancies had been on offer at the 2014 event. Saudi government organisations such as the Institute of Public Administration also offer support to KASP scholars. “We assist the 180,000 students studying abroad on scholarships by helping them to gain work experience with companies such as Shell and Microsoft,” Bander A Alsajjan, the IPA’s deputy director-general for development and quality, told OBG.
In 2015, a report by the Centre for Innovative Government, a private Saudi think tank and initiative of Prince Sultan University, called for a systematic study of the economic and social impact of KASP. The report said, “Researchers should pay close attention to how scholarship students reintegrate into Saudi society while also watching to see if and how they shape the future of their country by offering new perspectives and fresh ideas on a wide range of issues.”
Entrepreneur Alwaleed Aldryaan, CEO of Al Khaleej Training and Education, an IT training firm, says former KASP scholars want the same opportunities for their own children, and so he offers an adapted US curriculum at his schools. This is popular because it makes it easier for graduates to apply to universities in the US.
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