King Abdullah Scholarship Program: The Saudi Arabian Educational Youth Stride

Published: July 30, 2012

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This week SUSRIS is sharing insights and perspectives about the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which supports the overseas studies of over 100,000 Saudi young men and women around the world. Other articles and interviews in this series are listed below.

Emily J. Weinzetl | SUSRIS

“For them to know the world and for the world to know them,” said King Abdullah in a 2005 address to the media regarding the scholarship program that would bear his name.  It enables Saudi Arabian students to pursue their higher education goals and meet national labor needs while gaining global experience and understanding of other cultures.  Since its launch the program has grown to serve over 130,000 students in 46 countries across the globe, over 20 percent of which are women.

King Abdullah

Originally under a five-year watch at its inception in 2005, the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP) received short extensions in 2007 and 2009. A major extension was announced early this year that will keep the program running to 2020. Such a move reflects the Kingdom’s response to addressing the growing needs of higher education of the youth demographic in Saudi Arabia to feed its job market and economic demands to become a greater competitor in the world market. The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) says the focus of the program is to prepare Saudi youth for the various fields in the public and private sectors.

KASP recipients receive full university tuition coverage, as well as full medical and dental insurance, a monthly stipend, materials allowances, and annual airfare vouchers for the student and his or her family to Saudi Arabia and back to the host country. Recipients’ families receive the same insurance coverage, and joint scholarships are given to students with spouses. Students also receive rewards for high grade point averages, for papers published, as well as the publishing of research. Ensuring a representative student population studying abroad, scholarship recipients range from the privately educated elite of larger cities in Saudi Arabia to the youth from poorer, smaller towns. Khalid Al-Anqari, Minister of Higher Education, advised Saudi students to “take advantage of the academic opportunities offered by the Kingdom” while asking Saudi students upon traveling abroad to “regard themselves as good ambassadors in helping the job market and the local economy to grow.”

Living in America

The United States houses the largest number of Saudi student ambassadors at more than 30,000 Saudi students in 1000 universities across all 50 states. Saudi students studying in America are assisted by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) in Washington, D.C., which ensures student success by providing administrative assistance in academic affairs, information technology, social affairs, finance branches, and cultural affairs to assist in the assimilation of Saudis in American society.

Being a part of the KASP allows Saudis to not only be students of other cultures, but teachers as well. These students have established over 100 Saudi students clubs in 39 states to embrace the opportunity to teach others about Saudi Arabian culture. North Carolina information technology graduate Bandar al-Showair was one of the first students to study abroad in America under the program in 2005. Al-Showair said, “It’s not about getting the degrees, it’s about getting the culture and the new ideas and new ways of life.” While Saudi Arabian students traveling abroad are eager to experience and educate other cultures, some they encounter are sometimes slow in developing the same resolve. Diversification of the classroom heavily contributes to a healthy education environment, but even more so, diversity reinforces the future atmosphere of tolerance between American and Saudi Arabian cultures. Clark Egnor, Executive Director of Marshall University’s Center for International Programs in Kentucky, said, “Most of our American students are first-generation college students, and meeting students from other countries is an important part of their education. It helps prepare them for the world they’re going to live and work in.”

The KASP fortifies the relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States by allowing the Saudi youth to enrich American culture through the building of bridges and the merging of ideas by countering stereotypes and criticisms. The former Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki Al-Faisal believes that obvious differences in cultures should not constitute the makings of intolerance, but should spark the curiosity to find common ground. “Some of our experiences will closely resemble yours. Some will be different. But it is critical to remember that although our language, our dress, and our customs may be different, our hopes, our aspirations, and our dreams for our children are all the same,” he said.

Hopeful Outlook on the Future

The value of programs like KASP is recognized in the United States as well. This February, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated, “Young people are at the heart of today’s great strategic opportunities and challenges, whether it’s building or rebuilding the economy, combating violent extremism, or building sustainable democracies, youth are at the forefront of these issues.” Her statement reflects the Saudi Arabian government’s vision and investment of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, an investment in the youth who hold the Kingdom’s future in their hands. King Abdullah’s direct involvement with the program and the financial investment — about 25% of the budget — demonstrate the national concern for higher education. Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Dawoud, Imam Muhammad Bin Saud University’s Undersecretary for Studies and Development said, “The noticeable improvement in higher education reflects the government’s concern for Saudi Arabia’s youth who are required to be on a par with our aspirations to create diversity in graduates’ specialties and fulfill the requirements of the labor market by those qualified, and subsequently continue national development and achieve the country’s programs.”

Focus on Higher Education

For the duration of this week SUSRIS will present a variety of articles and interviews touching on experiences in the King Abdullah Scholarship Program and the Saudi educational youth stride. They include conversations with KASP alumni, American-graduated Saudi students Zeyad Al Shammari from Kansas State University and Mashhour Alqahtani from Tennessee Technological University. Other articles and reference materials about the King Abdullah Scholarship Program help illustrate Saudi Arabia’s emphasis on education.

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