Higher Education in Saudi Arabia
Higher education in Saudi Arabia is consistent with the US higher education system, but modified to accommodate Islamic traditions and customs. The first university, the King Saud University, was founded in Riyadh in 1957. The Ministry of Higher Education oversees all higher education in the country, with a particular focus on scientific research at the government universities. More than 200,000 students are currently enrolled at Saudi universities and colleges; about half of the students are women.
Why Study in Saudi Arabia?
International students will find a welcoming environment in Saudi Arabia, and the government even provides special scholarship programs specifically for non-Saudi students. Saudi Arabia is one of the best places in the world for master’s programs in Islamic studies. Studying in the country also provides a full Arabic cultural and language immersion for students not from the Middle East or for non-native Arab speakers. In addition to Islamic studies, modern Saudi institutions provide a wide variety of master’s degree programs in art, science, engineering, agriculture, medicine, education, computer science and information science. Many master’s degree programs are taught in English, especially those in technical areas such as engineering.
The higher education system includes 21 government universities, 19 teacher’s colleges for men, 80 teacher’s colleges for women, 37 colleges and institutes for health, 12 technical colleges and 24 private universities and colleges. Universities and colleges offer graduate programs that include both master’s and doctoral degrees. Private universities and institutions are non-profit organizations that complement government universities. Most government universities are general universities, but some specialize in certain areas such as petroleum and health.
Tuition and Program Duration
Citizens of Saudi Arabia are provided with free education and books. Many international students study for free as well. For example, all students admitted to the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology are provided with a fellowship that covers tuition, housing, medical and dental coverage, and about $US 30,000 annual living expenses.
The first semester classes generally begin in early September and run through early December, followed by final exams. The second semester begins in early February and runs through early May, followed by final exams.
There are many opportunities for post-graduate employment within Saudi Arabia, both for citizens and international students. Saudi Arabia employs roughly 8 million foreign workers, although most of those are in positions of manual labor. Still, there are many opportunities for graduates with master’s degrees in the petroleum and financial industries. Other strong industries for international workers include information technology, healthcare, teaching, construction and telecommunications. International students wanting to remain in Saudi Arabia for employment must first find a job, at which point the potential employer will apply for the appropriate work permit.
Saudi Arabia requires all foreign nationals to have medical insurance. Students not covered by a health care system in their home country will need to purchase private health insurance before arriving in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi National Day is September 23, when the country celebrates the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is still largely a cash society and, outside of large hotels and malls, credit cards are not widely accepted. However, ATMs are widely available.
Within cities, taxis are the best means of transportation.