The ICEF Dubai Workshop is just kicking off, and as attendees are lining up at Registration, many are already buzzing with energy and ready to do business. ICEF Monitor caught up with first time attendee Essam M. Al Khathlan from The Academic Expert Office in Saudi Arabia for a chat about what Saudi students look for in overseas education.
“Firstly, approximately 90 percent of Saudis do not speak English,” explains Al Khathlan. As a result, they are eager to go to English-speaking countries to study and improve their language skills, preferring to study English overseas [in country] rather than at home.”
When it comes to maximising the potential of the Saudi market, according to Al Khathlan, two kinds of opportunities exist:
1. There is a strong demand from students who want to attend university in the US, hence schools there need to open up more conditional admission options – allowing students to attend university in conjunction with language courses. At present, about 20 to 30 universities in the US receive Saudi students, but agents in the Middle East are constantly seeking additional universities to collaborate with. Other key points of interest are as follows:
- Popular areas of study include engineering, technology and medical studies, particularly physiotherapy and sports medicine.
- In terms of destination, there is such a strong interest in US schools, that preference is given to the US above all other countries, even preferring a degree from a lesser quality institution in the US over a better quality institute in the UK. The UK is also seen as an expensive place to study, with the US offering better value.
- Students in Saudi are mainly interested in learning English in English-speaking destinations, as opposed to other foreign languages.
- Rather than working abroad after studying, students are encouraged to return to Saudi Arabia to share their newfound knowledge and experience with those back home.
- There is also a great demand from students to attend schools in the US for masters and post graduate degrees, but their English is unfortunately not good enough to pass the admissions exams.
2. This last point is closely connected to the second opportunity: there is a strong need for top quality language schools in Saudi Arabia. Plenty of schools exist, but further work needs to be done in order to build the standard of training in the country to a level that can reliably prepare students to study abroad in English.
Additionally, there are insufficient exam preparation courses available to meet the present demand.
It’s clear that opportunity is knocking in Saudi Arabia, again.