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Saudi Arabia tops world in education spending

In a country where over 50 percent of the population is below 25 years, education is a vital and strategic area.

By Irfan Mohammed / 2 Jan 2013

Paucity of funds particularly in the sector of education is commonplace and is felt globally. This makes choice to pursue education limited for the students in several nations.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the situation is however quite different. The late King of Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz had a vision since he had founded the Kingdom (Saudi Arabia) focusing on the need of education as means to development.

His successive sons have well followed this tradition and pursued plans promoting education as key to the country’s development.

The SR 204 billion funds allocation to the education sector in the 2013 budget reflects Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s determination toward development of the education sector as well as his care for the Kingdom’s citizens. In a country where over 50 percent of the population is below 25 years, education is a vital and strategic area.

The Kingdom is truly committed toward building the nation and caring for its citizens, and education has been a top priority for the last five decades. By investing in its human capital, the Kingdom ensures lasting growth and a knowledge-based economy.

The Education Ministry’s 10-year strategic plan (2004-2014) to overhaul the education system is a milestone in the sector and corresponds to King Abdullah’s vision. The amount of money allocated to the education sector has increased dramatically in the last four years. It grew from SR 105 billion in 2008, SR 122 billion in 2009, SR 137 billion in 2010, and SR 150 billion in 2011 to the highest amount ever of SR 204 billion in 2012.

According to a study by Saleh Abdul Kareem of King Saud University, the budget for education in 1970 amounted to SR 666 million, or 9.8 percent of the total budget, while the literacy rate was 15 percent for men. Currently, the spending for education occupies 25 percent of the total budget and the literacy rate is above 96.5 percent, as per Word Bank data of 2009.

The allocation of nearly 25 percent for the education sector is one of the visionary and bold steps taken by the government, given that the allocation of many nations – including advanced ones – on education does not exceed 10 percent of total expenditure or 5 percent of GDP. Most advanced nations in Europe and North America spend an average of 4-5 percent of their GDP on education, whereas Saudi Arabia is spending an average of 10 percent on it – the highest in the world.

The allocation of grants to the education sector is hailed by a cross section of the society. “The huge allocation indeed shapes the development of our nation,” commented Abdul Kareem.

“We need to focus more on higher education,” said Mohammed Luqman of King Saud University in Riyadh. There are enough Saudi students in under graduation courses, but the number in higher education has to be increased, he said, as many Saudi youth opt for studies abroad due to scholarships, or choose to work as a result of the job offers in the local market.

King Saud University in Riyadh, with SR 9.4 billion, will receive the highest share of the latest budget, while King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah is second with SR 5.7 billion. Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh will receive SR 3.8 billion, and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dahran SR 1.3 billion.

An impressive amount will be spent on the development of infrastructure in all regions of the Kingdom. The huge spending on educational infrastructure projects will generate massive employment opportunities.

Apart from developing high standards in education, the Kingdom is encouraging its nationals to pursue studies abroad by providing scholarships.

For the scholarship program of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the government allocated more than SR 7 billion to support applicants to prestigious universities in countries such as the US, Britain, Germany, Canada, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, France, Japan, Malaysia, China, India, Singapore, and South Korea. The country has supported more than 18,000 students over the past few years, and over 7,500 students completed their course of studies under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program.

Significant progress has also been achieved in the education for women. The country’s literacy rate among women was only 2 percent in 1970, while women are now competing with men. Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University for women in Riyadh was established in 2009 and has become an icon for women education in the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Education has initiated several reforms in the education system. It introduced a revision of the syllabus and curriculum for mathematics and science, and put emphasis on the English language.

The focus on current education is gradually shifting from quantitative education to qualitative knowledge, and strong emphasis is being laid on its implementation.

There are a total of 34,749 schools with 276,400 classrooms used to teach 5,187,498 students from KG to secondary level. This includes special and adult education, according to the latest statistics of the Education Ministry. The primary and secondary education system is considered the backbone of the country’s education.

There are currently 24 universities in the Kingdom. King Saud University in Riyadh, established in 1957, is among the oldest institutions. A total of 508 affiliated colleges and institutions are attached to these universities. Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz University has the largest number of students in the Kingdom, with 132,094 students enrolled in the previous academic year, according to the statistics of the Ministry of Higher Education. In the last couple of years, King Abdullah established several universities in different regions of the Kingdom.


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