Saudi Arabia Commits $21 Billion To Education Plan

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has approved a plan to inject 80 million riyals ($21.3 billion) to upgrade his country’s education sector, according to an article published by Reuter’s.

The five-year plan comes on the coat tails of reports that Saudi Arabia’s educational focus on Arabic studies and religion has the wealthy Middle Eastern kingdom falling behind rivals in such fields as science, engineering, law and economics.

In an editorial for The Times Higher Education, Philip Altbach reveals the main thing hindering Saudi Arabians from achieving these goals is the rigid tenure system at the country’s universities.

These grant every Saudi citizen who is appointed immediate tenure – with little possibility of losing the post for poor performance. There are also issues around foreign academics, who make up 42%of the total workforce in Saudi Arabian public universities. All are appointed on renewable term contracts, and none can aspire to tenured posts or even long-term contracts. Nor can they hope to obtain Saudi citizenship. Many spend their careers in the kingdom. The incentives for non-Saudi professors to perform adequately are high, because they want to have their contracts renewed. But there is little incentive for them to build institutional loyalty or to perform at their top levels.

Prior to 1999, there were only 15 colleges and universities in Saudi Arabia. Thanks to an education uprising in the last 15 years, there are now nearly 70 in the country.

Abdullah is seeking to diversify his country’s economy away from the oil business.  According to OPEC, Saudi Arabia has 18% of the world’s proven petroleum resources.

According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), King Abdullah will also establish a ministry committee to supervise implementation of the program.

According the education ministry’s website, Education Minister Prince Khalid Al-Faisal said the plan includes constructing 1,500 nurseries, providing training for some 25,000 teachers, the establishment of educational centers and providing high-speed internet to schools.

Prince Khalid expressed his thanks to King Abdullah and said the “generous support would represent a historic, unique and advanced leap for the education sector that present and future generations will be able to reap the benefit from.”

Among Middle Eastern and North African countries who rely heavily on oil and petroleum production to drive their economies, Saudi Arabia was one of few countries not to see a change in government during the “Arab Spring” of 2011.

The 79-year-old Abdullah, who has ruled since 2005, has taken a very pro-active role in building social reform in his country. There has been an increase in welfare spending over the past decade, along with plans to build 465 schools and 11 hospitals in the country of nearly 30 million people.

In addition to the $21 billion injection, Saudi Arabia’s education budget for the next year is rising 3% to approximately $56 billion.