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Expat youth face difficulties pursuing higher education in Saudi Arabia

Despite many universities and colleges achieving their initial development in the Kingdom, expatriate students still face obstacles because of the exorbitant fees charged and the lack of accredited programs at local universities.

A recent report from the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness stated that number of expatriate students enrolled in private universities in the Kingdom accounts for only 25 percent of total admissions.

According to Dr. Mukhtar Khan, Director of InterContinental Education in Riyadh, expatriate students are not interested in continuing their higher studies in the Kingdom due to high fees, language barriers, fewer options and the value of the degree and the accreditation of degrees worldwide.
“If local universities collaborate with foreign high-ranking universities and students are awarded foreign degrees, the trend will change and a lot of students will prefer studying inside KSA,” says Dr. Khan.

High fees and lack of accreditation give students a reason to opt for recognized universities outside Saudi Arabia.

“I moved to Egypt to continue my higher education because universities in Egypt are more advanced when it comes to the level of education, ranking, human resources and experience,” says Saher Khalil, a business administration student majoring in finance at the Arab Academy for Science and Technology (AAST) in Alexandria, Egypt & Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU) in Wales, UK.

Khalil completed high school at Global International School, Jeddah and moved to Egypt and UK to pursue his Bachelor’s degree.
Khalil says that in terms of fees, enrolling in a university in the Kingdom would be a better option since it is cheaper when compared to Egypt, but in terms of accreditation, it drops off the list.

“A bachelor’s degree is only as strong as its credentials and recognition, so students are very concerned about this issue when enrolling and that is one of the main reasons I moved to Egypt,” says Khalil.

Khalil believes that universities in KSA will be stronger and much more advanced in the coming 20 years. “They will be a considerable array of choices for undergrad students. There has been a lot of improvement since they started up to the present day. If they keep this level of development steady, it is definitely going to pay off.”

The cost of education fees compared to the salary of an average expatriate is enormously high. Many expatriate families find it hard to settle these high university fees as well as manage other expenses with the small amount of salaries they are paid.

Abdul Jabbar, an Indian parent says that all parents, whether rich or poor, consider providing their children with the best education facilities available.
“In today’s world, education is a vital part of one’s being. The demand for education has resulted in institutions increasing their fees rates even though many of their programs are not recognized,” says Jabbar.

Jabbar says that local universities need to bring down their prices according to the level of recognition the institute possesses. “An expatriate spending SR 25,000 to SR 50,000 annually per semester for one child, at a local university where the programs are not recognized is totally not worth the cost,” says Jabbar.

“It is true that most of the private universities are charging high fees that are not affordable for middle class families,” says Dr. Khan.

Dr. Khan adds that if one has to enroll two or more children from one family, then for most families it is not possible to do it. “Even if some families can afford to pay this fee, why will they send their kids to local universities when they can get world class education abroad at the same fees?”

“Nowadays, majority of employment opportunities are open only for degree holders from well-known universities,” says Jabbar. “Graduating from a local university that is not accredited provides fewer chances of one being employed in his home country or abroad.”

Seconding him, Dr. Khan suggests that low-cost options are available too. “For example, Dammam Community College or Jeddah Community College charges SR 10,000 – SR 15,000 per year in tuition fees which is quite reasonable, but still students hesitate to enroll as they look for worldwide acceptability of the degree.”

“Although low-cost options are coming up in the kingdom by government universities and community colleges, they still do not provide full bachelor’s degrees,” explains Dr. Khan.

Dr. Khan says that local educational institutes should reduce the fees to attract more expatriate students. In order to justify their high fees rates, Dr. Khan puts forward several questions, a few of which are: are their faculty members well-established academics? Are they involved in research? Do they publish research papers in world-class science journals? Do they provide state of the art labs and workshops? Do they have university-industry relations? Do they provide internships? Are their degrees accredited worldwide?

He adds that they have to answer these questions to justify the high fees. “Introducing more educational programs will require certified international faculty members if they want to get international accreditation or else it will only be good for the brochure as ‘additional course offered’.”

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