KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Saudi Arabia 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: UNIVERSITY RANKINGS

Saudi Arabia is planning investments it hopes will improve its education system.

The prestigious annual publication QS University Rankings recently released its 2016 standings in the Arab region, following an assessment of 192 universities in 21 countries. Among the top 100 universities in the Arab world, the list shows 19 that are based in Saudi Arabia. For the second year in a row, the King Fahad University for Petroleum and Mineral Resources has made it to the top of the list, followed by American University in Beirut. King Saud University and King Abdulaziz University ranked third and fourth, respectively, among all Arab universities.

However, when placed up against the world's universities, Saudi universities shine a little less brightly. The highest-ranking Saudi university on the newly expanded Times Higher Education World University Rankings is King Abdulaziz University, ranked at 251. The next two Saudi universities on the list, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals and King Saud University, came in after the 500 mark. The government is aware of the fact that a highly skilled and educated workforce is vital in order to achieve the goals laid out by Vision 2030. That is why one objective included in the vision is to have at least five universities among the top 200 institutions in the world. Saudi students must acquire the knowledge and skills demanded by the local job market so that public and private companies can reduce dependency on foreign workers and expertise. In order to achieve this, the government has started to implement an adequate education system it hopes will enable the much-needed transition from an unstable, oil-reliant economy to a solid knowledge-based economy. The Kingdom has implemented some education reforms in recent years. The late King Abdullah, who inherited the throne in 2005, previously launched the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP), a fully funded government program that allows Saudi youth to study abroad and receive academic degrees. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) was established in 2009 in a government bid to diversify education and put an emphasis on subjects related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), generally neglected by Saudi students, who tend to find more interest in studying culture, religion, or Saudi history. While KASP and KAUST have prompted significant improvements in the education system, a more profound transformation is required if the Kingdom is to achieve the adequate economic diversification and sustainable development it is after. On June 10, 2016, the government announced the National Transformation Program 2020 (NTP), a strategic roadmap drafted by Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to diversify the economy and increase efficiency in the Kingdom. The NTP sets eight strategic objectives for the education sector, including greater accessibility to education services for all students and improving recruitment, training, and development of teachers. Minister of Education Ahmed Al-Isa announced that the Ministry will use both its public and private arms to implement 36 initiatives aimed at achieving these goals.