Health & Education

The Long Game


Saudi Arabia is proud of its education system and the Kingdom spends huge amounts of money to ensure it is one of the best in the region, if not the […]

Saudi Arabia is proud of its education system and the Kingdom spends huge amounts of money to ensure it is one of the best in the region, if not the world. With over 50% of the country’s population under 25, it is no wonder that the government has emphasized education as a major pillar of the Saudi economy. In 2013, the government allocated SAR204 billion ($54.4 billion), which was a 21% increase on the year before and the highest yearly increase since 2007. This move also represented 25% of the government’s total annual budget for 2013. This was one of the highest ratios in the world, as most countries tend not to break the 10% threshold. Most of this budget will be used to refurbish of over 2,000 schools as well as build 539 new schools, and on the construction of 15 colleges, in addition to the establishment of a new electronic university. SAR4.25 billion ($1.13 billion) was also allocated for the construction of three new hospital colleges, while SAR21.6 billion ($5.75 billion) was allotted to over 120,000 students and their families that were studying aboard.


When the modern education system was established in Saudi Arabia in 1932, it was available to very few people; however, now there are 25 public and 27 private universities, 30,000 schools, and a number of large colleges and institutions. There are currently over 1 million students enrolled at Saudi universities, which compared to 1970 when only 7,000 took part is a huge step forward. One of the oldest universities is the King Saud University established in 1957. At that time, there were only nine instructors and 21 students. Today, over 65,000 students enroll annually, with 659 professors, 1,102 instructors, and 690 lecturers.


In an effort to continue the upward trend of enrollment, on May 19, 2014, King Abdullah approved a five-year plan worth SAR80 billion ($21.3 billion). The focus revolves around improving teaching standards and the general quality of the system. Over the five years, the government will build 1,500 nurseries and provide training for 25,000 teachers, as well as establish numerous education centers around the Kingdom. Since the Saudi education system has traditionally focused on religious studies and Arabic, it has sometimes found it difficult to produce enough quality graduates in the sciences. Hence, over the course of the plan, it is hoped that certain initiatives will be able attract more students into this field to aid the government’s grand plan of diversification away from oil and gas, while developing a knowledge-based society. This investment will be in addition to the annual education budget, which is expected to rise by 3% in 2014 to SAR210 billion ($56 billion).

In addition to the government’s investment plan, the government has also signed four contracts worth £850 million to help boost the Kingdom’s technical and vocational training centers. The deal, signed in April 2014, will see UK education providers establish 12 new colleges. The winning consortia comprises the Oxford Partnership, Lincoln College, Hertvec, and FESA. The companies have five years to deliver their respective colleges. Of the 12 colleges, seven will be aimed at women and should have a total capacity of 24,000 students—14,000 of those students will be women. The deal was made in line with the Saudi government’s long-term goals of creating jobs for nationals and reducing the Kingdom’s deficit.


In 2005, the Saudi government established what is now one of the world’s largest scholarship programs, the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme (KASP), to help Saudi Arabians complete their studies aboard. With over $5 billion and counting pumped into the program, KASP has helped thousands of Saudis complete their studies in a wide variety of countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, China, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, and Turkey, among many more. KASP was established with the aim of distinguishing young Saudis in the workforce as well as helping to develop the knowledge-based society that the government wishes to create. The Saudi government wants to prepare its workforce in an effective manner allowing it to compete on the international labor market and increase Saudization at home. KASP has been instrumental in improving the workforce and supplying high-quality graduates for both the private and public sector.

When KASP was first established, it put forward five main goals: sponsor qualified students to study in the best universities abroad, work to develop a high level of academic and professional standards, exchange scientific, educational, and cultural experience, build a qualified and professional Saudi workforce, and raise and develop the level of professionalism among Saudis. The program allows students to pursue their studies in a number of fields, including medicine, nursing, pharmacy, engineering, computers, math, physics, chemistry, biology, and other disciplines, such as law, accounting, and finance. In 2012, KASP helped 34,100 students abroad, a 50% increase on the year before. It also funded 90% of all Saudi students who chose to study abroad.