The programme, which was launched in 2005 and slated to run until 2014, has been a boon for international education providers. A sizable 87,844 the 130,397 Saudis currently studying abroad were said to have received scholarships through the programme.
A further 14,103 were given civil service scholarships, while just 16,596 university and 11,854 English language students were self funded.
INTO University Partnerships, a leading university pathway provider in the UK and US that benefits from the scheme, welcomed the news.
“There has been an increase in the numbers almost every year since the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme programme was launched in 2005, and this represents yet another boost to the number of Saudis heading overseas,” said Tuukka Hinttula, recruitment director Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
“The opportunities are particularly good to the US providers for now… our numbers in the USA in particular have grown tremendously over the last two years,” he said, adding that the focus had shifted away from the UK market.
Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Mousa, undersecretary at the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education for Scholarships, said this week that the scheme would continue to prioritise subjects that helped Saudi build a “knowledge economy”, such as medicine, engineering and science, signalling a further move away from humanities.
Currently 70 per cent of scholarship students study subjects such as business administration, engineering, information technology and medicine.
The King Abdullah programme was originally launched after the number of Saudi students in the US plummeted to a low of just 1,008 in 2004, following visa restrictions implemented after the 9/11 terror attacks (15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis).
Since then it has successfully helped rebuild relations between the countries. Al-Mousa said that the conduct of Saudi overseas students had improved stereotypes of Saudi society abroad, with many students setting up volunteer and charity organisations in the US, Canada and Britain.
Despite the promising rises in Saudi study abroad traffic, Saudi students can still face lengthy visa processing times in some countries. Protesting at delays at the Canadian embassy in Riyadh last September, Saudi Arabia increased waiting times for Canadians applying for Saudi visas to 30-45 days. Citizenship and Immigration Canada blamed a surge in applications, but others said that post 9/11 security checks remained a driver.