Foreign Exchange: Saudi Students in the United States
Saudi students are studying in the United States in record numbers.
June 16, 2014Despite the vast differences between Saudi Arabia and the United States, or perhaps because of them, a flood of Saudi students has come to the United States.
In 2013, more foreign students in the United States came from Saudi Arabia than any country save three: China, India, and South Korea. The King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP), launched in 2005, has sent over 150,000 young Saudis abroad to pursue higher education. More than half of these scholarship students are choosing the United States for their training, and their overall numbers are increasing every year. According to the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Washington, 82,500 Saudis are currently studying in the United States, with the largest cohorts studying for their bachelor’s degree or working principally on their English.
The scholarship is part of a long-term strategy to transition Saudi Arabia to a “knowledge society,” strong in high-tech services and industries. But Saudis today worry aloud about what will happen as KASP students come home. Encouraging young people to take private sector jobs with less job security, lower pay, and longer work hours than public sector jobs has been hard, and it is not clear that KASP graduates will have different preferences than other young people entering the job market. In addition, no one is sure how young people, particularly women—who make up 28 percent of KASP students—will reintegrate socially. Will their peers respect them or resent them, and how will their new bosses respond to them? Almost a decade in, the answers are important, but remain unclear.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.