Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

A New Perspective on the Quest for Education: The Saudi Arabian Way to Knowledge Society

Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

A New Perspective on the Quest for Education: The Saudi Arabian Way to Knowledge Society

Article excerpt


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, thanks to the foresight and generosity of the Al Saud ruling family, has always devoted great efforts to the development of education. Investments in higher education, in particular, have increased exponentially in recent years. The purpose of this paper is to introduce some facts and figures about the new developments of the Saudi higher education system and to explain how past, present and future policies on education in Saudi Arabia embody the idea of education as a matter of public concern and interest. The paper suggests that a Saudi Arabian knowledge society is in the making, at its own pace, and the country is preparing to play a very important role in the international competition for excellence in education.

Keywords: King Abdullah Scholarship Program, Saudi Arabian knowledge society, Saudi higher education system, cognitive competition

1. Introduction

Ever since its beginnings, thanks to the foresight of the Al Saud ruling family, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has given special attention to educational matters. But now, there are recent qualitative and quantitative developments in the Saudi higher education system that deserve also to be highlighted and brought to the notice of the international academic audience. Outstanding achievements delivered latterly by Saudi policies on higher education have placed the Kingdom in a unique and challenging position in the worldwide scenario of competition for excellence in education.

Assuming that investment in education means investment in the future, my first aim is to provide a short description of the main facts and figures relating to the present higher education system in the Kingdom. My second aim is to comment and reflect on selected issues raised by the book published in 2013 by Springer: "Higher Education in Saudi Arabia. Achievements, Challenges and Opportunities", which is the first book on Saudi higher education to be published in English. It is expected to pave the way for further bibliography in addition to the miscellaneous materials (official Saudi documents, papers and statistics, international documents, newspaper articles) that have hitherto provided the main source for those wishing to conduct research on Saudi higher education developments. This book has turned out to be very inspiring and has helped to reinforce my view, namely, that a Saudi knowledge society is definitely in the making. My third and last aim is to invite international academics and experts to follow very closely what may reasonably be called the Saudi Arabia case study, where tradition and future come together in the name of education.

2. Some Facts and Figures

Established as a kingdom on 23 September 1932, when Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud was proclaimed King of Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil producer in the world has a very young population, according to recent official statistics. In particular, 79% of the Saudi population is under the age of 40, and 36% of the population is younger than 15 (Ministry of Higher Education, 2010a, p. 1). 1.2 million students are enrolled in higher education, and 4% of these attend private institutions. Females represent over 60% of the student population (ICEF Monitor, 2012).

Investments in higher education and the establishment of new universities and colleges have increased exponentially across the country in recent years (Central Department of Statistics and Information, 2013).

The facts and figures are impressive. Just to mention a few, in August 2009 four new universities were opened in Dammam, AlKharj, Shaqra and Majmaa. In September 2009, thanks to a US$ 10 billion initial endowment from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) was opened in Thuwal, a city located 80 kilometres north of Jeddah on the Red Sea coast (Sawahel, 2009). KAUST is an international research university for post-graduate studies, and the only coeducational university in the country. …

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