King Abdullah and the Young Ambassadors

March 20, 2012

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim | Arab News

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

As in the present and in the past, the biggest challenge for any governing body is educating the youth. Saudi Arabia is one of the countries which has a high percentage of its population being young men and women between the ages of 16-30. The government of Saudi Arabia had and still has education as its most important priority. Schools are in every city, town and village. Education is free from elementary to the university level and beyond. Saudi Arabia had always educated Saudis abroad.

In the mid the 1970s, King Khaled announced a council of ministers reshuffle. The new Cabinet had many Saudi Ph.D. graduates from the United States. The doctorate degrees were from the best schools in the world, such as Yale University. Those ministers were a fine product of an ongoing program of overseas scholarship for young Saudis by the government. In today’s world, Saudi Arabia had and still has the highest number of students who are on full scholarships abroad. This scholarship covers plane tickets, tuition, medical insurance, monthly pay, accompanying spouse pay, children’s day care expenses, annual round trip tickets and emergency leave round trip tickets from wherever the student is to his hometown in the Kingdom. In addition, there is within the Kingdom, scholarships for Saudi students at private universities. Public, government universities are free for all citizens. And each student attending public university in the Kingdom is eligible for a monthly pay of $300 per month.

The overseas scholarships started a long time ago. They started at a very small scale when the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz, saw the need for Saudis to have the best education in the most advanced countries. During the 1940s and 1950s, Saudi Arabia had massive oil explorations and with the wealth coming from oil revenue, new projects for the benefit of Saudi citizens were in the planning. At that time, there was a severe shortage of university graduates and skilled workers. A number of young Saudi men were sent to the West for higher education. The scholarship program continued and peaked in 1974 when King Faisal saw the need for graduates with various specialties during the 1970s economic boom. The program slowed down in the 1980s after many universities and specialties were introduced to the education system in Saudi Arabia.

When Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah became king in August 2005, he launched the largest scholarship program for Saudis in history. Tens of thousands of students, male and female, were sent from Saudi Arabia to top world universities all over the world. The United Sates and the United Kingdom had the lion’s share. But there are Saudi students in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, China, Europe and many other countries as well. Saudi Arabia ranks number one in the world with the highest percentage of its budget being allocated for education. And while the world economy is slowing down, the Saudi economy is booming. Thus, this new Saudi economic boom is in need of more educated Saudis with more advanced degrees in sciences. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques scholarship program is designed to get young Saudis the best education from the best international schools. Thirty percent of Saudi students abroad are enrolled in the top 100 schools worldwide and 70 percent are enrolled in the top 500 schools. Billions of dollars have been allocated for this program and there have been massive expansions of the Saudi educational missions in major world capitals. The expansion is designed to take care of the tens of thousands of Saudi students abroad. Those educational missions have round-the-clock supervision of the conduct of the students. The Saudi educational missions are in daily contact with the students. All needs of the students are reported, monitored and met.

Nowadays, the massive build up of new roads, hospitals, railroad tracks, universities, airports and sea ports in Saudi Arabia requires the finest educated brains. And the presence of thousands of Saudi students in various countries has had a positive impact for Saudi Arabia, not only in education, but also in social development. Those young Saudi students are the best ambassadors for Saudi Arabia. They learn from the world and they give the world a taste of Saudi culture. We have seen many events and exhibitions which were organized by Saudi students in their universities and communities about Saudi food, heritage and history. And in addition to cultural exchanges, Saudi students are exposed to the work ethics of different countries. For Saudi students living abroad, it is a lesson in self-reliance and understanding of other cultures which would make them appreciate what they and others have.

The majority of the Saudi students abroad are there for their bachelor degrees, but a lot are seeking higher education. Either master’s degrees or Ph.Ds. The health care sector has especially benefited from sending students abroad supervised by the Ministry of Higher Education. The ministry is spending $6 billion to build additional hospitals which are attached to some Saudi universities and to expand some existing hospitals. They are called university hospitals. The medical treatment in these hospitals are free of charge. These hospitals will need a very high number of Saudi doctors. And at this time, there are hundreds of doctors who graduated from Saudi medical schools, but they are continuing their specializations in countries like America and Canada. Most of the Saudi medical graduates from Saudi medical schools enroll in medical prep programs for their United States Medical Licensing Exam. Also the scholarships are going to be an asset for the Kingdom to bring very important and strategic new innovations. New graduates will bring with them the knowledge of sciences which would help Saudi Arabia enter the field of research and development. The overseas scholarships are in parallel to the expansion of the existing universities and the establishment of new universities in the Kingdom.

King Abdullah and Crown Prince Naif are always in constant communication with education officials to ensure that the best standards are met. King Abdullah and Crown Prince Naif are always present when an educational institute is being officially inaugurated. And they are both present when a major graduation ceremony is held in any university in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia is investing billions of dollars in the most important assets for any country, the youth.

In present time, due to the constant graduation of Saudi students in different countries, there are annual graduation ceremonies for Saudi students being held in some world capitals such as Washington D.C., attended by Saudi officials from the Ministry of Higher Education and various government departments. At this stage, new Saudi graduates are ready to be part of the driving force to build and maintain the country. And with thousands of students coming back home to the Kingdom, it is very important for these new Saudi graduates to be oriented and briefed about the availability of jobs and the description of those jobs in the Kingdom. The Ministry of Higher Education under the leadership of Dr. Khalid Al-Anqari can hire some of the new graduates to be a link between the Saudi job market and the new graduates. Those hired by the Ministry of Higher Education can be like a public relations body which would give the Saudi companies the status of new graduates, their specialties and their track records of education while abroad. Also, it is important for the new public relation body to be like a hiring agent for the new students and they would direct them to the proper place and the proper company or government agency. The Saudi job market is the largest in the Middle East. So, it is very important for the new Saudi graduates to be hired a short time after their arrival from abroad. And with the present economic boom, it is not difficult to absorb the new graduates in the job market. We all know that the other Gulf states also have an economic boom and those countries are also in need of highly skilled and highly educated young men and women. And if our young men and women are not absorbed by our job market, then we will see Saudi brains being utilized by other Gulf states. The Saudi government has spent time and billions of dollars to educate those young men and women, so, it would be a great loss for us to see them leave the country and work in a neighboring Gulf state.

We, the Saudis have to give our young men and women time to adopt and time to refine their skills. And it is also important to give them more on the job training in order to refine and improve their skills. We, the Saudis want to cultivate what we have planted. Taking care of the youth and educating them is the most important thing for any country to develop itself. Youth are the driving mechanism for the development of any society. Saudi Arabia now is entering a new era in development. The government is looking for different venues to diversify the massive Saudi economy. Now, we are looking for solar energy. Mining for different minerals is expanding. All those new projects need the finest educated Saudis to develop them and to sustain their operation. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia now is one of the leading countries in human developments and the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education went the extra mile to fulfill the goals of development. The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques scholarship program to educate young men and women is an important and strategic step to ensure the continuity of Saudi prosperity.

— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is a Commodore (Retired), Royal Saudi Navy. He is a frequent contributor to the SUSRISblog.  He can be contacted at: almulhimnavy@hotmail.com

Reprinted with permission of the author. Originally published in Arab News.

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