It’s indisputable that Saudi Arabia’s universities are turning (churning?) out graduates with absolutely no employable skills. Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the Deputy Minister of Labor identifies the problem: too many students in areas that are only minimally necessary in contemporary society, specifically, Shariah Law studies and Arabic Language. As Saudis have pointed out to me, they do not need Islamic plumbers or dentists, just plumbers and dentists who can do the job.

The perils of focus on Shariah and Arabic are several. First, graduates unable to find jobs for which they are qualified get angry. They’ve wasted time, and sometimes money, earning something that is little valued. Next is the problem that these unemployable graduates create for both the national economy and society. They end up being a drain on both government and parental coffers because they are unable to produce anything worthwhile.

Perhaps the most insidious problem, though, is that having been educated in a narrow field, these graduates have a tendency to view the world through the lenses crafted by that field of study. There’s an adage that goes, ‘Everything looks like a nail to a hammer.’ It applies here as well: viewing the world solely through the eyes of Shariah law or historic Arab culture (the goal of Arabic language studies as taught) necessarily misses out on the broader aspects of life. Diversity of thought or behavior is certainly not promoted or valued; in fact, they are seen as dangers, capable of disrupting the ideals of a ‘golden age’ that never was. Further, given the way critical analysis has been deprecated in Saudi education, we end up with a situation wherein precious nuggets of false history are protected like a jinn’s treasure. And thus, the machine to produce better educated religious police gets fed. They’re ‘better educated’ in that they now hold degrees, but they are worse educated in that they know less of the world, of mankind, than almost any other field of study would produce. The only jobs they are competent to fill are those artificially created by government in the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

I think it clear that these jobs are not productive. They may have social value – Saudi society continues to feel a need for them – but they add nothing to the national economy. To the contrary, they interfere with efficient operations by mandating ‘separate but equal (and twice as expensive)’ sexual segregation in the workplace. They inhibit women’s ability to drive, thus creating an artificial need for foreign drivers and another drain on the economy.

I am not calling for a major change that puts students into the hard sciences. There, too, one finds limited opportunities for jobs, though perhaps not as serious a bottleneck. Instead, I think, Saudi education should start incorporating more comparative studies within the liberal arts. These courses should demonstrate that there are manifold ways of doing things successfully; that every decision has benefits and costs; that history can have direct application on contemporary matters.

Saudi parents as well as the jobless graduates know there’s a problem. They’ve been calling for reform but have been thwarted by religious and social conservatives who fear change. ‘Modernization without change’, the mantra of the conservatives, is impossible. It is far better to accept that change is inevitable and seek to moderate its hazardous or ambiguous consequences.

‘Too many Arabic and Shariah graduates’
Naim Tameem Al-Hakim | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — There are too many Arabic and Shariah graduates in the market currently, according to Dr. Mefrij Al-Haqbani, Deputy Minister of Labor.

Al-Haqbani said these graduates rarely get the jobs they were trained for, and often have to settle for jobs paying as little as SR2,000 a month.

However, there are plans to upgrade the training and courses of colleges offering these diplomas and degrees. This is being carried out by various government agencies, including the National Commission for Academic Accreditation and Assessment (NCAAA) at the Ministry of Higher Education.

Some graduates are bitter about not being able to find jobs. Muhammad Al-Qerrni said he graduated from a faculty of Arabic language two years ago, but has not found a job to suit his qualification. He eventually accepted a job for SR2,000.

January:07:2012 - 10:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink
7 Responses to “Too Much This; Not Enough That”
  1. 1
    Russell Said:
    January:07:2012 - 20:24 


    I have been following the Arab Spring phenomena and have been basically pro-Arab Spring, but there are a lot of talking heads that see nothing good in it. Do you think that it may be having a positive effect on Saudi Arabia, (yes, I know it had not been there) in encouraging the government to make more modern reforms. And, do you believe that it was wise for Obama to be on the Arab Spring side, tentatively as it was at times. I think what many people fear, and rightfully so, is attacks on Christians, and such a weak government not being able to protect them.

  2. 2
    John Burgess Said:
    January:07:2012 - 22:23 

    @Russell: ‘Arab Spring’ is still a work in progress. If it turns out to empower religious zealots at the price of liberty, then it will encourage Saudi conservatives to do more of what they want to do, that is, restrict society even further.

    It is a very bad sign, I think, that mobs in Egypt (and other places) seek to chase out Christians who not only preceded them, but have lived in more-or-less peace for 1,400 years. That is my major hesitation in watching the events in Syria as well. While the thugs of the Assad regime ran a police state, top to bottom, they did protect religious minorities. That they did it at the expense of the Sunni majority is very unfortunate and will likely come back to bite the minorities who profited.

  3. 3
    Russell Said:
    January:08:2012 - 09:58 


    Thanks, I value your views.

  4. 4
    Dakota Said:
    January:09:2012 - 11:50 

    I had thought that while Syria was running Lebanon, the percentage of Christian population decreased considerably. If you read Judith Miller’s book, originally Israel was supposed to be the Jewish state, Lebanon was supposed to be the Christian state, and Syria was supposed to be the Muslim state, but from day one the Muslims started playing Swiss cheese with the predominantly Christian areas until they were forced to emigrate by war or unreasonable neighbors. (I may not have all the nuance right, but that should be close.)

  5. 5
    Dakota Said:
    January:09:2012 - 11:57 

    As far as the unemployed Arabic language graduates, maybe in their spare time they could start editing Wikipedia. Literature in the Arabic language is WAY underrepresented.

  6. 6
    Saudi Jawa Said:
    January:09:2012 - 14:00 


    I doubt they’d be able to do that. Learning by rote is an epidemic in Saudi Arabia, but it is even more rampant in arts and soft sciences. The vast majority of these graduates have no real research skills, and have never been trained in critical thinking. Not very conductive for (fairly) editing an encyclopedia.

  7. 7
    Dakota Said:
    January:09:2012 - 16:29 

    SJ: Then let them copy and paste whatever rote memorization thing they have been taught and let the Wiki bots come through and plaster “citation needed” all over it. It can always be improved later. At least there would be *something*. A couple of times in the last few months, Google has featured an Arabic language poet or historical figure on their home page, with only three or four sentences in English, and nothing at all on the Arabic wiki, to tell the world who this person was. To say nothing of seeing a link to one or two of their poems in the original.

    But I understand that Saudi students get paid for attendance and not for results.

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