It is a blessing in disguise
By : Sabria S. Jawhar
Given the plummeting oil prices and the government’s efforts to implement its program to reduce the deficit in the fiscal budget, it comes as no surprise that the generous King Abdullah Scholarship Program would be affected.
Media reports announced that the scholarship fund would now be limited to Saudi students attending one of the top 100 universities around the world and in programs rated in the top 50 in its field.
It may be a blow to young Saudis who dreamed of a university education. And there is the potential that government could face a reduced pool of western- educated undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates entering the workforce. The program helped make the Kingdom a driving force in the global economy.
But the scholarship is not dead. Played right the reduced availability of scholarships could be a blessing in disguise. First, it will make applying for scholarships more competitive. It will help create a higher caliber student with Saudi Arabia’s best of the best winning a full ride to one of the top 100 universities in the world. Second, with better and more serious students applying for the program, applicants looking for an extended vacation abroad on the government’s dime will be weeded out.
At first blush it appears that trimming the program’s $6 billion budget is the focus. But in reality — according to the scant information available — the government is only limiting students to attending 100 universities and reducing the number of fields they can pursue. An even closer look indicates that limiting the number of fields of study to the top 50 should barely cause a ripple. Students studying science, medicine, education or business — the areas that will strengthen Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure and standing in the global community — will largely be untouched.
We can look at Saudi Arabia between 2005, when the program was launched, to 2015 and see that we enjoyed a period of tremendous growth and many opportunities for young Saudi men and women. Women in particular have enjoyed tremendous strides in obtaining a university education, enjoying marketable job skills and discovering that the labor rules and regulations have been relaxed to allow them a degree of parity with men in the workplace. Not perfect by any measure, but enough progress has been made to allow women a foot in the door of the workplace.
If anything the new restrictions will only strengthen the quality of university graduates entering the private sector. At the moment there is no suggestion of tightening of tuition money and living expenses for students living abroad.
It’s a major accomplishment to see that 200,000 Saudi students were abroad attending universities in 2015. An estimated 60,000 are studying today in the United States. Only India, South Korea and China have more university students in the US. Globally, Saudi students received a 100 percent free education, a monthly stipend to pay for living expenses and accommodations, round-trip airfare to return home between semesters and medical insurance.
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