GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Higher Education in the GCC: the Saudi Arabia Case Study
Paper Proposal Text :
In recent years, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, home to the first university in the Arabian Peninsula (King Saud University, 1957), has witnessed exponential increases in expenditure on education, and higher education in particular.
Despite the sharp decline in oil prices, on December 25, 2014, a record $229.3 billion budget was announced, where total expenditure on the education sector amounts to around $57.9 billion, representing 25% of total appropriations for the year 2015. For higher education, the new budget includes appropriations of around $3.28 billion.
When King Abdullah ascended the throne in 2005, there were 7 public universities. Nowadays there are 28 public universities and 9 private universities. In addition, at least 10 universities are expected to be opened within the next five years, and in December 2014 the Ministry of Finance announced the opening of 3 universities.
In a press statement made on the occasion of the release of the national budget, the Minister of Higher Education, dr Khaled Al Sabti, pointed out that during the last decade there was an 86% growth in the number of universities, which now accommodate over 1.5 million students throughout the Kingdom.
The total number of Saudi students currently studying abroad under government sponsorship is over 207,000, including their dependents who accompany them and are also supported by the government. It is estimated that around 85% of Saudi students studying at international universities are sponsored by government funding, primarily through the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which is considered the largest government scholarship programme in the world.
An interpenetrative relation between education (universities) and society as a whole seems to be part of the history of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as scholarship-oriented policies have been part of the Al Sauds\'education strategy since the 1920s.
To convey some idea as to the size of Saudi investments in education, it may be helpful to compare them with European Union allocations to education and development. At present the European Union boasts two newly launched programmes, Horizon 2020 and Erasmus Plus. Horizon 2020 is the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. Its main priorities are excellence in science, competitiveness of European industries and societal challenges; the Horizon 2020 budget for the next seven years (2014-2020) is 80 billion euros. Erasmus Plus is the EU programme aimed at boosting skills and employability, and modernising education and training. its budget for the same period (2014-2020) is 14.7 billion euros. So the European Union has allocated a total amount of around $131 billion in order to support the development of the European Knowledge Society over the next seven years, the equivalent of $18.7 billion per year. Self- evidently, the EU allocations for the next seven years bear no comparison with the Saudi allocations for education in 2015.
According to Al Ohali and Burdon, in Smith and Abouammoh (2013), given that \"Saudi Arabia aspires to be a regional hub of excellence [in higher education]\", \"it must find effective ways of addressing and capitalising on three separate spheres of influence for international collaboration: firstly, the Middle East; secondly, a wider Muslim collaboration; and thirdly, and perhaps the most challenging, global collaboration\". And they conclude: \"Globalisation and international collaboration will need to find its place among Saudi Arabia\'s vision and goals for the future and its strategies and plans for improvement\".
This paper highlights how Saudi Arabia is confronted with a major challenge: to become a worldwide and authoritative economic and educational competitor, retaining its freedom to decide what is the right and best path to human development for its people. Nowadays, the efforts of the Arab world\'s largest economy are focused on the building of what could be called the Saudi Arabian Way to Knowledge Society, a process characterized by sustained and sustainable political committment to invest in education and higher education in particular, the preparation of several detailed plans for future developments, international scholarships for younger generations, attention to the international debate on higher education, research into the best practices in higher education, and finally, a strong determination to retain traditional culture, but at the same time awareness of the need to open up to the globalized world.
Moreover, this paper seeks to address the following questions: How can the rapid development of higher education in Saudi Arabia help social change in the country? What are the implications of the emergence within the GCC countries of a highly educated Saudi citizenry? Is higher education considered a threat to \"heritage\" in Saudi Arabia? How will the Saudi Arabian vision of higher education reconcile globalization with the respect for traditions, culture and beliefs? How can the European Union learn from Saudi higher education policies?