PASSPORT TO SUCCESS

Saudi Arabia 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: KING ABDULLAH FOREIGN SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM

A decade after sponsoring its first student, the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program is going stronger than ever.

2015 marks the 10th anniversary of the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program (KASP), which has been one of the key factors affecting the development of the Kingdom's human resources. Beginning in 2005 from a royal decree from King Abdullah, the program was designed to support the public and private sectors in the Kingdom with highly qualified Saudi citizens that were, in part, trained and developed at some of the top educational institutions internationally. Ultimately, the program is also seen as a vital cog in Saudi Arabia's transition toward a knowledge-based economy.

Specifically, the scholarship program covers undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate levels, with strict acceptance standards to ensure the highest qualified Saudi students. The scholarship includes academic tuition, medical coverage, a monthly stipend, and even airfare for the award recipients and their dependents. Since 2005, KASP has been responsible for funding nearly 90% of Saudi nationals studying abroad.

KASP began by partnering with prestigious educational institutions in the US, but has since grown to involve other international educational programs that were selected on the basis of excellence, including such countries as the UK, France, Australia, Germany, South Korea, and Turkey, among others. In total, there programs in roughly 23 countries, which are subject to periodic review, although the majority of students involved in KASP still go the US.

The dramatic impact of KASP is readily apparent. Via data from the institute for International Education, the number of tertiary-level Saudi nationals studying in the US was 44,586, compared to 3,448 in 2006, when KASP had just begun. The nearly 1,200% increase of high level, tertiary education in less than a decade is a clear indicator of how the program is preparing the next generation of Saudi leaders, as the economy continues to diversify and more and more sectors are requiring advanced level, national human resources. According to government data, in 2014 there were 120,000 total Saudi undergraduate students, 47,500 earning their Master's Degrees, and another 10,400 at the doctoral level, with priorities meeting the needs of the national economy. Roughly two-thirds of the students on scholarship were involved in programs related to business administration, engineering, IT, and medicine. In 2012, the budget for the program was estimated at over SAR9 billion.

Although King Abdullah passed away, the future remains bright. The apparent successes of the program led to a 10 year renewal in 2010, and the new ruler, King Salman, seems intent on at least letting the program reach its current 2020 expiration date. King Salman and the Ministry of Education are even expected to extend KASP beyond 2020, as the current government has shown interest in extending the more successful programs inherited from his predecessor.