One measure of the quality of an education is how well it helps in gaining employment. By that standard, the Saudi education system is not up to scratch. Arab News reports that most employers see a foreign university education as a strong plus when it comes to hiring. Some argue that ‘an education is an education’, but many seem to think that even the exposure to foreign ways provides a competitive edge over those wholly educated in the Kingdom. As it’s Saudis who are doing the hiring, it’s Saudis who are giving a vote of no-confidence in the current educational system. This, of course, is one of the factors behind the urgent moves to reform Saudi education.

For centuries, vast parts of Saudi Arabia were essentially cut off from international intercourse. The result was a bit of xenophobia, resistance to change, and a rather smug attitude of ‘If it didn’t come from here, it can’t be worth much.’ Since the early days of modern Saudi Arabia, the government has been struggling to bring modernity to the country, though its preferred model—modernization without change—was impossible. The result has been a developed education system that clearly values the old ways, but in doing so it misses out on both technical and social skills that are critical in today’s global economy.

According to the article, it doesn’t seem to make much difference where one studies, as long as it’s outside the Kingdom. That is a serious indictment of the current system.

Graduates with foreign degrees have better openings in job market
Laura Bashraheel | Arab News

JEDDAH: Last week, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah extended the “King Abdullah Scholarship Program” by another five years. Studying abroad provides students with the skills needed in this era of globalization and economic prosperity in the Kingdom, and Saudis have long appreciated the value of studying aboard, something that has long been seen as a way of securing good employment. Whether this is true or not is another matter.

According to the Ministry of Higher Education, there are 62,241 Saudi students, both male and female, studying abroad. Although the Saudi higher education system has developed rapidly to meet Saudi job market needs, including the increased establishment of universities in the Kingdom, many students still prefer to study abroad.

Competition in the workplace has led to calls for higher standards in educational development, and Saudi Arabia, being a country with huge potential and vast resources, has been faced with new challenges in education.


January:27:2010 - 10:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (18) | Permalink
18 Responses to “Saudi Education Devalued in Job Markets”
  1. 1
    Daisy Said:
    January:27:2010 - 10:56 

    This trend is the same in many countries. In general, a Western education, especially from well-known universities, is valued more than the education in one’s own country. It’s the same in India and in many other countries in the developing world.

    The difference is that Saudi Arabia has more money than these countries and still does not have a valuable education system. Another difference is that students from other countries such as India who go abroad for higher education usually stay abroad after finishing their education, but the Saudi students like to come back to Saudi Arabia.

    Where one goes to study is also related to finances. For examples, Indians value a Western degree more than an Indian one, but India gets lots of students from other Third World countries, because they can’t afford the expenses of a Western education. We also get many Master’s degree students from developed countries like the US, European countries, Canada, Australia etc. That’s because these students can get a fairly good Master’s level education in a good Indian university at a much lower cost before they go on to get a PhD in their own country. They save a lot of money that way.

    Now that the KAUST has been built, I foresee a similar trend in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps Saudi students will get one degree from KAUST before they go abroad for a higher degree. Foreign students from Western countries who will go to KAUST may also be going for a degree which prepares them to get their final degree from their own country.

  2. 2
    John Burgess Said:
    January:27:2010 - 11:20 

    The interesting thing here is that it doesn’t even have to be a top university! It seems that any university, as long as it’s not a Saudi university, adds to the credentials.

  3. 3
    Daisy Said:
    January:27:2010 - 11:24 

    That shows a low self-esteem in matters of modern higher education. But Saudis are not known to have a low self-esteem. Perhaps university education is really bad there.

  4. 4
    Chiara Said:
    January:27:2010 - 16:22 

    KAUST is a graduate studies only university so the first degree ie bachelor’s would have to be from Saudi or elsewhere. Then Master’s/PhD at KAUST.

    The added value of doing a degree elsewhere is most often 3-fold anywhere: 1) proving some other institution also values your work highly (any institution to break up the sequence of degrees from the same place even a top ranked one); 2) bringing new skills and knowledge to your repertoire/ back to your previous uni (eg the Master’s away; 3) genuine greater value or specificity of the degree elsewhere/ the prof/ the institution.

    The Commonwealth Graduate Studies Scholarships facilitate graduate study by students of Commonwealth countries in other Commonwealth countries. The Masters level degree which leads to a PhD (ie a research masters not a terminal masters) is a more flexible degree and so can be taken more freely anywhere, whereas for a researcher or an academic the most prestigious, or highest ranked uni possible and where one wants to work ultimately becomes more important considerations. For people in developed countries or those wanting to work there, that means North America, Europe or Australia, unless highly specialized fields and event then. A colleague has a PhD from Duke in Indian studies which has taken him to positions at Harvard and now in a prestigious European research institute.

    Some Saudi unis are ranked higher than others, obviously, but it is a young country in terms of a university culture, and still training up its own–wisely sending them for the best opportunities abroad so they will return with this knowledge and skill set to KSA and improve the quality of their field and of education there.

  5. 5
    Daisy Said:
    January:27:2010 - 22:13 

    Sometimes the foreign degree does not have a genuine greater value, nor does it bring new skills – sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. The society perceives the foreign degree as valuable, regardless of its genuine value, which helps in getting the job more easily and perhaps at a higher salary.

    The foreign degree is usually taken as the final degree, not as a preparatory degree for the final degree at home. If the final degree at home is valuable enough, there is no need to go abroad for higher studies, except in the case of students from the West, who come to India for a Master’s because they want to save some money. Western degrees are expensive as compared to Saudi degrees. Hence, from a foreign degree to KAUST route is not likely to be popular. The reverse route – from KAUST to foreign degree is likely to be popular. Those who think KAUST PhD is good enough, will not go abroad for higher education.

  6. 6
    John Burgess Said:
    January:27:2010 - 23:33 

    I do agree. There are many degrees not worth much more than the paper (or parchment) they’re printed on. It’s easy-ish to get just good enough grades to graduate without actually learning a whole lot.

  7. 7
    coolred38 Said:
    January:27:2010 - 23:52 

    Whats the point of going abroad to study and learn valuable lessons etc…then revert back to the same o same o when it comes to the age old dilemma of ….when in Saudi act one way…while abroad act another?

    Cant overcome years of conditioning with a few short educational years abroad.

  8. 8
    Chiara Said:
    January:28:2010 - 01:31 

    Actually, what the article states is rather common knowledge. For developing countries degrees from developed ones have higher value, because of the greater opportunities to learn more up to date information and skills, by more innovative pedagogical methods, with more equipment and better libraries. The experience of living in another society is valued for the abilities it adds to the candidate’s repertoire. Though not specified these are usually skill sets like genuine fluency in another language, comfort with the customs and manners of another culture, and contacts for future collaborations, all of which are valuable in business, academia, and professions.

    Where you do your final degree determines where you will be employable. EG you must do a recognized equivalent degree, or have to do it, and their are formal mechanisms for comparing across university systems. If you have a PhD from a light weight university anywhere you will only be employable in Tier I or II at most Unis in North America not the Tier III ones. If you have a Tier III Phd you are better perceived anywhere. IF from one of the prominent European universities ditto. Also from Australia for certain subjects, at certain universities.

    I have counselled many students and known many others, and I don’t know of any who have done a Masters in India for financial reasons, although it is plausible. Unless doing Indian studies there would be no real advantage academically, just as all the foreign grad students in Hong Kong were there for Asian studies or were expat wives. I’m sure it happens but it must be rare. More common is Indian students coming for graduate studies to North America; and Chinese students sent by their parents to complete high school here to get into uni here easier.

    As a younger country Saudi is wise to send people abroad and they have contracts often as professors to teach at Saudi unis. There is a brain drain of course, but some go back and are prominent in their fields.

    I really don’t understand how someone could get a higher degree with no skill acquisition. Just the practice of research and writing and in a foreign language, of attending class, and discussing and presenting would improve skills and force the acquisition of others, even if one skimmed through with the minimum which is a B- for grad studies, ie to stay in the program let alone get the degree. Professional masters degrees (terminal masters), eg MBA, MPH, MA (Journalism), etc require high level skills in accomplishing specific types of work, professional attitudes, and interpersonal skills. MDs, specialists, and subspecialists learn abroad knowledge and techniques that don’t exist in Saudi–to the benefit of Saudis.

    Daisy–please check anything about KAUST. The only degrees offered are Masters and PhD level. Only 15% of the students are Saudi, most of them took their first degree abroad. All the others did. Many plan to do a Masters there and a PhD elsewhere ie back home eg the US, eg blogger Nathan, to be most employable, ie have the most recognized degree, have access to a broader intellectual community in their field, and build the references for jobs in their home countries. Others will leave with a PhD and most likely do a postdoc which is almost mandatory these days for top research positions.

    Coolred–students often have profound experiences and life changing years abroad. They are never quite the same afterwards even if their moral behaviours don’t change or their attitudes about whom to marry and how to live with family etc. They most often are more open to new ideas, and better able to engage with foreign concepts and perform better on the international stage for their companies, institutions etc. Often they do change their attitudes about their country, culture, religion etc in subtle but profound ways. It is one of the reasons revolutionaries/ reactionaries like to kill off the intelligentsia.

  9. 9
    Daisy Said:
    January:28:2010 - 02:27 

    I know KAUST has Masters and PhD degrees only. I am talking about students who do Masters and then go on to do PhD – for them PhD is the final degree and usually one does a Masters at home and goes abroad to do a PhD. The reverse usually does not happen except in the case of Western students I am talking about. There is a large number of Masters degree students in India from North America, Europe, Australia, Japan, Korea – from almost every developed country. They come to study not only about India, but all kinds of disciplines including International relations, English literature, political science, philosophy and economics, subjects which focus not only on India but on much more. For these students, Masters is not the final degree. They go back and do a PhD from their home country. That’s why it works for them. Perhaps you haven’t come across these students, that’s a different issue.

    The main point is that one’s final degree should be from a good place. If they are aiming to do a PhD, it’s a perfectly pragmatic decision to get a fairly good Masters at a low cost and then get a PhD from a developed country.

    I myself had an American student in my Masters class. She went back to do her PhD from the US. Once there were an American and a Canadian in the same Masters class and they never got along well! They both went back to their countries after completing Masters. We have a large foreign students’ community here – from developing as well as developed countries.

    I am not talking about undergraduate education at all. In India nobody gets a good job after getting an undergraduate degree, so an undergraduate degree doesn’t have much value here as far as job market is concerned. This is because of the population explosion, not because of the quality of education.

    I don’t know what value an undergraduate degree has in Saudi Arabia, but because I am oriented to think of graduate education as a necessity for a good job, I am talking about only graduate education.

    And John is right, every foreign degree is not necessarily an indication of a good education. It depends upon the subject and the level of expertise that exists in a university in that subject. Not all Western universities have a good expertise in every subject. And as John says, it is possible to get grades without learning much. That happens everywhere, not only in the West.

  10. 10
    Daisy Said:
    January:28:2010 - 03:56 

    Just to add – I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who may not have or may not even plan to have a graduate education. In fact, I don’t think education equates with wisdom. My grandparents never went to even primary school, but they were amongst the wisest and the most understanding people I have come across. It’s just that we are conditioned to think in India that a graduate education is a necessity for a good job, so my comments are a result of this.

  11. 11
    Chiara Said:
    January:28:2010 - 08:50 

    Daisy–thank you for clarifying. As “first degree” refers to a Bachelors degree normally (anywhere in the world), your repeated references to a first degree didn’t convey the meaning you gave here. Also, many KAUST students are doing a PhD directly, and KAUST, like the excellent institutions with which it is affiliated, treats a Masters in the Sciences including engineering as more of a stepping stone than a stopping place. In most Tier III (research and professional universities) the Masters is more of fall back degree, and people are accepted directly into PhD and then re-streamed at the end of the first year.

    I did make it clear that I believed that some students go to India for an inexpensive Masters on their way to a PhD elsewhere which is more determinant of which country they would be able to work in. I simply find it surprising that I haven’t met any, given the work I do and have done over years. A degree from India in Indian Studies or South Asian International Relations, would have more weight in the West than a degree from India in much else except perhaps IT. It isn’t necessarily just or right, it just is (from experience on tenure and promotion committees, and admission to grad studies committees). Likewise I expressly emphasized skill acquisition rather than marks, in my comments about learning, and the learning was broadly construed. Even if all you do is repeat old skills they become honed (hopefully!!!).

    Hard to know what to make of your disgruntled American/ Canadian student combo–most likely a personality clash, unless they were discussing the War of 1812-14, and then well, that is WAR! Also, Canada and the US have deep structural differences with a very similar veneer. These are accentuated by US draft dodgers shifting our politics to the left, many of whom have taught/teach in Canadian universities, affecting impressionable young minds who then teach in High Schools, etc, with a ripple effect. Some were my favourites and mentors, and then there were the others. The same could be said of any group of professors though.

    My impression is that an undergraduate degree carries more weight in Saudi than in other countries with a longer tradition of broader university education, but that the best jobs are reserved for those with professional and graduate degrees from top recognized unis within Saudi or abroad. It is to Saudi’s credit that it makes scholarships available for uni study to both men and women and has done for years.

    Ah yes the student with the light weight Masters degree who studies for a PhD: an abysmal stressful,usually unsuccessful adventure. I have supervised 2, both of whom wisely chose other avenues for their a) parental pushing; b) empty nest syndrome. Other of my Masters and PhD students were in the right place no matter their previous training and have done well, MashaAllah.

  12. 12
    NielsC Said:
    January:28:2010 - 12:48 

    It hasn’t really that much to to with the university, as the article says again and again : the demands from business has more in common with education results from western universities, than those the saudi educational institutions deliver.
    The reason is of course that the organizational culture in many organization isn’t in sync with the culture in saudi state organizations.

  13. 13
    Chiara Said:
    January:28:2010 - 15:13 

    NielsC–yes, precisely why I mentioned skill sets learned abroad, including from programs and living there, that are valuable in business: second language learning, cultural norms, professionalism and negotiating across cultures etc. In that sense it does have to do with universities broadly and with specific programs in particular: BComm, MBA, MPH, BA/BSc economics, etc but also there has been proven value to businesses of having those skilled in the social sciences and humanities, as well.

  14. 14
    Commenter Said:
    January:29:2010 - 04:31 

    KFUPM and the engineering program at King Saud Univ are better than about 99% of US universities that Saudi students go to. Graduates of these two universities often get admitted into the top schools in the North America and the UK and enjoy great success there. And it’s been my experience that engineering graduates from the top two Saudi universities (KFUPM and KSU) made much better engineers than their US-qualified counterparts, even compared to those who went to top-50 US schools. The US graduates, however, had better English-language skills and were thus better able to market themselves, and of course took advantage of the ingrained bias towards them that John speaks of.

    Of course, my comments are strictly related to undergraduate programs in technical fields like science, engineering, and math. I’m not talking about grad schools or business or the humanities.

  15. 15
    John Burgess Said:
    January:29:2010 - 08:50 

    People’s perceptions of the quality of any given university, or education in general, don’t necessarily correlate with their academic quality. In part, that’s fair. A university education isn’t just about what goes on in the classroom, nor even the campus. Some schools are noted for the networking they provide, post-graduation, for instance. And of course, some schools are famous for their excellence in one area while a student may be studying in another.

    KFUPM does indeed have an excellent reputation, King Saud as well. But as you note, these are in technical fields, not humanities.

  16. 16
    Commenter Said:
    January:29:2010 - 16:53 

    Who cares about non-technical fields? Even graduates from the U.S. in the humanities can’t find jobs. If you want a job in KSA, you need to study either engineering or business, unless you want to be a schoolteacher.

  17. 17
    John Burgess Said:
    January:29:2010 - 18:03 

    Not exactly true. My son, a liberal arts major, got himself a job when he started looking, two months after graduation. He’s been gainfully employed and paying his bills ever since. I realize, as they say, that “‘anecdote’ is the the singular of ‘data’”, but also note that all those who went into banking are suddenly back at their parents’ homes…

  18. 18
    Commenter Said:
    January:31:2010 - 16:54 

    Your son found a job in Saudi Arabia? Because that was what I was talking about. Although, even in the U.S., a great number of liberal arts majors turn to law school or business school.

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