Development of Global International Education

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Chapter 4: The Role of Education in Saudi Development

The aim of the current chapter is to: Discuss key challenges in Saudi development Explain the Saudi government focus on education (both domestic and international) as a component in resolving development challenges Establish the role of “engagement” within Saudi international education policy Chapter four provides an analysis of development challenges in Saudi Arabia in several areas; namely, social and demographic, economic, and education. Education is discussed as both a challenge and a solution to challenges in the other two areas. The Saudi state has reached a number of education milestones over the past 50 years and continues with big aspirations in the 21st century. These are discussed in this chapter. Due to the focus of this thesis, the goals discussed relate primarily to the role of international education as a key part of government policy in social development, up-skilling of Saudis, and in improving interreligious understanding.

Development Challenges

Saudi Arabia is undergoing considerable change due to rapid modernisation and swift population growth, aided by oil revenues. The speed of development has been accompanied by a number of development challenges relating to social, demographic and economic trends as mentioned. The education sector also has a number of challenges, while at the same time is considered a vehicle for solving problems. This section addresses these broad challenges in order to set the context of education solutions – including the emphasis on sending Saudi students abroad.

Social and Demographic Challenges

At the heart of issues affecting Saudi Arabia are demographic and related social development challenges. The Saudi population grew from 5 million in 1974 (Moaddel, 2006) to 21 million (plus 5.5 million foreign guest workers) in 2011 (Central Intelligence Agency, 2012). Some estimates suggest the population will double over the next 20 years. Swift population growth and 75% of the population under 30 years makes Saudi Arabia one of the world’s youngest countries (Anonymous, 2008). This trend has been accompanied by urbanisation, which increased from 16% of the population in 1950 to 82% in 2010 (Anonymous, 2008). Population growth has impacted on numerous areas of life. For instance, growth has placed pressure on infrastructure (Elliott, 2001), and exacerbated social challenges. In particular, as identified by a Saudi political scientist, key demographic related social issues include a shrinking middle class, rising poverty, and fundamentalism (Bremmer, 2004). Other pressures created by the demographic situation include social frustration due to unemployment and the restrictiveness of society (Doran, 2004). Bremmer (2004) notes emerging demographic issues are within a society which has little information about the outside world (Bremmer, 2004). The government has recognised that social development must match new internal and also changing external realities and has actively been implementing new initiatives in response to these, such as the international scholarship program. External commentators suggest that the conservative nature of Saudi society has also had a negative effect on economic development, especially in terms of the ability of international firms to operate in Saudi Arabia. Accordingly, this has led to the term ‘Dubai envy’ which reflects a sense of ‘missing out’ on opportunities to less conservative neighbours. Bronson and Coleman (2006) quotes a senior Bahraini official as noting that ‘most of the investment infrastructure in Bahrain and the UAE really should be in Saudi Arabia’ since Saudi Arabia’s market of 26 million people dwarfs those of the other gulf countries with populations of less than three million each. Bronson and Coleman (2006) notes that Saudi Arabia’s ‘oppressive social atmosphere and sclerotic bureaucracy’ have forced international companies to base themselves close to the kingdom rather than in it (Bronson & Coleman, 2006). Thus Saudi Arabia’s social and demographic challenges impact on the economy, which will be further discussed in the next section, along with other economic issues.

Economic Challenges

Saudi Arabia’s role in the international economy cannot be overestimated. The Middle East accounts for at least 80% of the world’s exportable oil reserves and Saudi is the only country with spare production capacity (Ayoob, 2006). Saudi Arabia holds approximately 20% of the world’s oil reserves (SaudiAramco, 2012). Oil prices continue to rise, and analysts suggest that oil prices between 2006 and 2025 could on average be 50% higher than in the previous 20 years (Economic Intelligence Unit, 2006). A 40% growth in demand by 2025 is also predicted (Ayoob, 2006). Thus Saudi Arabia’s revenue streams, as well as its strategic role in the global economy, are guaranteed for at least a generation, assuming no viable alternative to oil is found over this period. Yet, while oil provides enormous revenue for the country, the fact that Saudi Arabia depends on oil for approximately 90% of its income (Alkhazim, 2003) makes the economy extremely vulnerable to oil price fluctuations and overly dependent on one source of revenue. This revenue has however produced benefits and allowed Saudi Arabia to develop at great speed and without the political constraints associated with taxation. The oil boom of the 1970s was accompanied by rapid changes in Saudi Arabia, including the expansion of Saudi bureaucracy, sedentarisation of tribes, urbanisation, and demographic growth (Moaddel, 2006). This accompanied the development of services to meet the growing population, including infrastructure, health, and education. Whilst Saudi income has risen substantially due to increased oil prices in the past few years, high population growth has meant per capita incomes have declined over the previous two decades (Bronson & Coleman, 2006). GDP grew 1.6% per year from 1990 to 2000 while population grew by 2.7% per year over this same period (Bremmer, 2004). The Saudi economy contends with serious structural and economic challenges related to changing demographics. Unemployment continues to rise in a growing labour force. Meanwhile, ex-pats account for a considerable portion of the private sector, compared to Saudis (Kapiszewski, 2000). Dependence on foreign workers is a result of oil revenue development which, while allowing the country to develop at great speed, required ex-pat skills on a large scale. According to Bahgat (1999), this development has led to structural problems not shared by other developing countries, which have usually developed at a slower pace and with local labour (Bahgat, 1999). Nevertheless, the ensuing mismatch of local / foreign labour in Saudi has compounded structural issues related to population growth. Saudi Arabia recognises oil is a finite resource and is utilising oil resources to plan for the future and develop its labour force. The government has addressed the imbalance of Saudi and local workers with « Saudization » policies designed to replace foreign workers with Saudi nationals (Elliott, 2001; Sadi & Henderson, 2005). However these policies have not been widely popular in Saudi Arabia as companies have found many Saudi nationals lacking the required skills and experience, modern work ethic, and motivation. Therefore, there has been little incentive to employ less productive locals. At the same time, Saudis have also been disinclined to take work in the private sector due to comparatively lower salaries, longer hours, and a more competitive environment, all of which are often under an ex-pat supervisor and without the high status they associate with the public sector (Kapiszewski, 2000). Kapiszewski (2000) explains that “Saudis as a nation, are not culturally and psychologically prepared for Saudisation” (p. 29). The government has attempted to counter lack of enthusiasm amongst companies for hiring nationals, accompanied by local preference for public sector jobs, by introducing a number of measures to encourage both groups. That is, the government has tried to encourage companies to hire locals, while also encouraging locals to seek jobs in private companies. These measures have included quotas whereby companies are required to employ a certain ratio of Saudis and a new salary scale proposing that locals be paid twice as much as expats. However, companies have viewed their competitiveness as undermined by employing locals at greater cost (Bremmer, 2004) and comparatively lower output. On-going education initiatives have attempted to influence the employability of Saudis, as will be discussed in the next section.

Education Challenges

The Saudi education system has been the subject of analysis and criticism both internally and externally, and especially post 9/11, but appears to be adapting to internal and external pressures. This was pre-empted in 1990, when businessmen made a petition to Saudi rulers, asking them to review educational policy. They wrote that this was necessary in order to “catch up with the caravan of nations that have vastly surpassed us in every field” (Prokop, 2003, p. 86). This concern is on-going; however, more recently, education challenges can be understood mainly as comprising issues related to: a) curriculum, b) quality, and c) availability of places. While external attention has primarily focused on curriculum content, quality and availability have also been addressed by the Saudi government in recent education directives. These three areas will be discussed here.


External criticism of Saudi curriculum has focused on the content of religious education. Prokop (2003, p. 86) explains; The content of the official textbooks is heavily influenced by the Wahhabi ideology. Teaching about the ‘others’ – other cultures, ideologies and religions, or adherents of other Muslim schools of jurisprudence or sects – reflects the Wahhabi view of the world divided into the believers and preservers of the true faith and the kuffar, the unbelievers.Critics contend this ideology has led to schools promulgating a fundamentalist view of Islam (Bronson & Coleman, 2006; Economic Intelligence Unit, 2003a; Moaddel, 2006). According to this viewpoint, students have developed little understanding of the world outside, and practices of rote learning of patriotic and religious texts has rendered many Saudi women and men ‘functionally illiterate’ and unable to compete in the global market place (Bremmer, 2004). Some US media blamed Saudi culture and education for responsibility in the 9/11 attacks with allegations that Saudi youth were supposedly brainwashed by the most extremist school of Islam. Observers contend that Saudi educational institutions were responsible for “promoting anti-Semitism, anti-Western attitudes and intolerance of other religions” (Moaddel, 2006), along with “endemic jihad promotion and […] hatemongering” (Bronson & Coleman, 2006). This has involved descriptions of Christians and Jews as infidels and enemies (Anonymous, 2006). Examples of textbook quotes to which critics referred to include: It is permissible to visit a non-Muslim country, provided that the stay includes hidden hostility toward and hatred of infidels – taken in 2000 from a 7th grade textbook (Weston, 2008, p. 410) Arabs and Muslims will succeed god willing in beating the Jews and their allies (from a 6th grade text book) (Ratnesar, et al., 2002, p. 28) Regardless of whether such quotes were symptomatic of broader education endorsed fundamentalism, Saudi Arabia took steps to address the concerns highlighted by external critics. In 2003, the Saudi ministry of education made changes to the curriculum by purging texts of intolerant teaching and removing passages that promoted enmity and hostility. The ministry also addressed fundamentalist teachings amongst clerics, a process which involved firing 1500 clerics and retraining 1000 more in tolerance of non-Muslims (Economic Intelligence Unit, 2003b; Weston, 2008). However, a later study of textbooks at a Saudi diplomatic school in Germany found that “2/3 teach Muslims to hate non-Muslims, while one in five praise martyrdom, and urge violence against non-Muslims” (Crawford, 2004). While Saudi Arabia has publicly supported curriculum reform, purging national texts of prejudiced elements after they were highlighted post 9/11, the discovery of such textbooks still in use in Germany, combined with the intolerance of some clerics, left some observers sceptical of the extent and commitment of the Saudi government in genuinely seeking rapprochement with non-Muslims and reform of intolerant teachings. An alternate viewpoint, however, might suggest that Saudi challenges in social development are illustrated by both, especially since enactment of government directives and policy can depend on the views of the individuals carrying out the instructions. It is possible some stakeholders agreed with such texts while others were happy to see them cut out of the curriculum. Regardless of specific religious focus, religious education and Arabic language make up more than half of the curriculum from 1st grade to high school (Weston, 2008). These subjects have been criticised for taking up too much time and detracting from other subjects which will improve job prospects, such as maths and science. Higher education has been similarly criticised for the number of students being turned out in disciplines which are not contributing significantly to the Saudi economy. According to Krieger (2007), universities graduate too many students in the disciplines of social studies and religion and too few in health, engineering, and business. This has led to a national deficit in businessmen and scientists, (Krieger, 2007)and a shortage of graduates in technical and specialist fields. This trend is exacerbated by a common perception amongst young Saudis that vocational education is low status and science too difficult (Kapiszewski, 2000). Earlier education reform encouraged religious education in an attempt to create a religious utopia; however this led to unemployment (Anonymous, 2006). The deficit in non-religious subjects has affected Saudi ability to compete with foreign workers. Increased flexibility in the curriculum is now a component of development policy in order to allow education institutions to address the imbalance of learning material (Kapiszewski, 2000), as is up-skilling in areas of shortage through study-abroad.

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Several observers suggest quality is a key challenge in the Saudi education sector (Bahgat, 1999; Kapiszewski, 2000; Weston, 2008). According to Kapiszweski, poor quality is a result of numerous weaknesses in the Saudi education system, such as poor teaching methods, a lack of qualified teachers, and a system in which students are given free university access and stipends. The latter is blamed for students being unmotivated. Students are not encouraged to ask questions, with rote learning characteristic of Saudi education (Weston, 2008). A 1996 study found that 45% of university teachers were foreigners (Weston, 2008), demonstrating a dependence on external sources as Saudi has developed its domestic education requirements. The private sector would like to see increased flexibility in teaching styles (Kapiszewski, 2000), although domestic policies have stifled this.

Availability of Places

The rising youth population has impacted upon the availability of places at tertiary level. One estimate suggests that up to 75,000 Saudi university applicants per year are unable to find places at domestic universities (2007) and this number is set to increase. The higher education ministry set about countering the shortage of available places by large scale development of higher institutions, and countered the shortfall in necessary disciplines by increasing places in specific disciplines. Education plans have included development of eleven new universities, in addition to 110 higher institutes, between 2003 and 2007 (El-Rashidi, 2007). This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has embarked on the rapid expansion of institutions. There is some precedence in the development of institutions to meet the needs of the population. The number of engineering colleges rose from five to 42 in the 1980s (Weston, 2008). In both decades, the Ministry of Higher Education has acted to address internal demands. Other recent initiatives which have also addressed the availability of places (as well as quality and curriculum development issues), have included inviting foreign universities to set up in the kingdom (Kapiszewski, 2000), lifting a ban on private education, and offering incentives such as free land and scholarships, as well as building costs for private education providers (Krieger, 2007). As a result of these initiatives, a German–Saudi business school has been agreed, as has a Texan backed university with classes only in English, and the government is considering allowing universities from other countries including the UK and Australia to open branches in Saudi (Weston, 2008) p. 452. Negotiations with other external education providers from non-traditional partners including New Zealand are also underway.

Chapter 1 : Introduction
1.1 Aims of the Research
1.2 Scope
1.3 Methodology
1.4 Outline of the Research
Chapter 2 : Saudi International Engagement Challenges
2.1 Theoretical Perspectives
2.2 Rationale for Choosing Contact Theory
2.3 Threat Theories
2.4 Perspectives on Saudi Engagement within the International Community
2.5 Foreign Policy’s Influence on Saudi Public Opinion of Others
2.6 Saudi National Culture
2.7 Conclusion
Chapter 3 : Development of Global International Education
3.1 Historical Overview of Recent Internationalisation of Education
3.2 Benefits of International Education
3.3 Trends in the International Flow of Students
3.4 Conclusion
Chapter 4 : The Role of Education in Saudi Development
4.1 Development Challenges
4.2 The Education Solution
4.3 Conclusion
Chapter 5 : Research Methods
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Approach to Theory building
5.3 The Selection of an Appropriate Research Method
5.4 Stage One: Quantitative Study – Design, Sources of Data, Collection Protocol
5.5 Qualitative Study – Design, Sources of Data, Collection Protocol
5.6 Conclusion
Chapter 6 : Saudi Arabia chooses New Zealand as a Study Destination for Scholarship students – Official Views
6.1 Part One: Motivation for Sending Students Abroad
6.2 Part Two: Sending Students to New Zealand
6.3 Part Three: Implementation of the Program in New Zealand
6.4 The Future Outlook
6.5 Conclusion
Chapter 7 : Understanding Student Experience via Quantitative Data Analysis
7.1 Expectations
7.2 Experience
7.3 Outcomes
7.4 Further Analysis
7.5 Conclusion
Chapter 8 : Impressions of Each Other
8.1 “New Zealand is in Europe” (Preconceptions Before Travelling)
8.2 “There’s No Racism Here” (How Saudis View New Zealanders)
8.3 “Just Oil and Terrorists?” (Impressions of How New Zealanders Seem to View Saudis)
8.4 “Five Fingers on One Hand” (Different Kinds of Saudis)
8.5 Conclusion
Chapter 9 : Getting Used to Differences
9.1 “There Is No Difference, We Are All Human” (Similarities and Differences)
9.2 “Following the Rules” (Distinct Cultural Frameworks)
9.3 “Money, Alcohol and Relationships” (Differing Priorities)
9.4 “Eating Ice-cream in New Zealand” (Freedom in New Zealand to Behave as One Chooses)
9.5 “Looking at Each Other Like Spies” (Students Monitor Each Other)
9.6 “Everything I do Like the Saudi Woman” (The Saudi Female Experience)
9.7 Conclusion
Chapter 10 : Friendships
10.1 “Saudis like to Make Friends Everywhere” (Willingness to Make Friends)
10.2 “Becoming Part of the Furniture”(Ease of Making Friends)
10.3 “They can, they can, they can…” (Making Friends and Keeping Values)
10.4 “I Don’t Listen to Them” (Advice from Families and Friends)
10.5 “We Divide New Zealand People into Two Groups”(Students Advise Each Other On Whom to Befriend in NZ)
10.6 “I Try Not to Cross the Red Line” (Gender Differences in Making Friends)
10.7 Conclusion
Chapter 11 : Reflections on Studying in New Zealand
11.1 “After I Moved to New Zealand I Changed a lot” (Personal Transformation)
11.2 “Forget about Religion”(Strategies for Making Friends with Locals)
11.3 “It’s too Hard to Get Good Grades” (Reflections on Education in New Zealand)
11.4 “New Zealand is Outside the World”(Benefits of Studying Far From Home)
11.5 “The People of New Zealand are still good for Muslims” (New Zealand as a Study Destination for Muslim Students)
11.6 Conclusion
Chapter 12 : Discussion
12.1 Key Findings
12.2 Addressing the Research Questions
12.3 Theoretical Perspectives on Saudi Friendship Building in New Zealand
12.4 Critical Reflection on the Use of Contact Theory
12.5 Conclusion
Chapter 13 : Conclusions
13.1 Contact Theory Hypothesis
13.2 Implications for Contact Theory
13.3 Outcomes Resulting from this Engagement
13.4 Recommendations to New Zealand
13.5 Recommendations to Saudi Ministries
13.6 Limitations
13.7 Recommendation for Future Study
13.8 Concluding Statement

International Education as a Conduit for Engagement between Countries: The Case of Saudi Students in New Zealand

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