This was discussed at the Gulf Conferences scholarship programme meeting this week in London, as stakeholders are projecting huge growth in the region’s education sector.
“Governments within the Middle East are committed heavily on education”
“I think the GCC and the Middle East are progressing very rapidly,” said Abdelkhalig Mohamed, managing director of Gulf Conferences, to The PIE News, adding that there is a huge amount of financial investment in the sector.
“Governments within the Middle East are committed heavily on education.”
Mohamed went on to say that in Qatar for example, entities such as Qatar National Bank, are investing money in research for universities.
“It just shows you how much these countries are coming forward,” he said. “And that needs to be well communicated for an international education provider to make the most out of it.”
One of the region’s most prominent government scholarship schemes is Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah scholarship programme.
Established in 2005, the programme has recently seen the government signing agreements with corporations such as Saudi Arabian airlines and the Saudi Arabian monetary agency, to connect students’ study abroad experience with the working world.
“I think this will make a lot of difference, a lot of sense for universities, for educators to come along with the right programme and right syllabus to fit with the working environment,” said Mohamed.
Luke Frerichs, president at FLS International, a chain of English language schools in the US, told The PIE News that there is a “hunger for study” among students from Saudi Arabia, but found that especially with the Saudi Arabian scholarship programme, “when that scholarship money disappears, the students disappear along with it”.
“They need to expose themselves, they need to tell people they are good”
“If they’re not supported by the government or scholarship programme, we will find the students aren’t there,” he said.
“So for this region especially I think scholarships are going to be key.”
In 2012, Saudi Arabia saw 62,500 students go abroad, the fifth highest number of outbound students in the world, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics.
The latest Open Doors report also found that in the 2014/15 academic year, Saudi Arabian students in the US increased by 11% to almost 60,000 students. The report notes these students are largely funded by the Saudi government scholarship programme.
As Gulf students return home after periods of time abroad, more effort is being made to employ graduates, notes Anjum Malik, co-founder and managing partner at the Alhambra-US chamber of commerce, a US-based organisation which facilitates international education exchange.
“That’s going to create the cycle and everybody is going to benefit,” she told The PIE News.
“The heavy investments that the governments have made in getting talent, and seeking advice from people that have been educated in other parts of the world, has been transformative.”
Malaysia, which has a goal of reaching 250,000 international students by 2025, is aggressively recruiting students from the Gulf region.
“Our responsibility is not just preparing them to get a PhD or master’s or bachelor’s, but this is good for future collaboration later,” said Zaidatun Tasir, dean of the school of graduate studies at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.
“Because when they go back to their country, they might be appointed as somebody and we can actually have a collaboration with them.”
However, while countries in the Gulf region are increasing outbound numbers, stakeholders hope that it will also become a study destination for students outside of the region.
“I think they have to collaborate and they have to publish more,” said Tasir. “They need to expose themselves, they need to tell people they are good.”
This is the first year Gulf Conferences has organised a scholarship programme meeting, and participants from 19 different countries and eight ministries, attended for dialogue over two days.