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Has the Arab Spring contributed to increased demand for study abroad?

Early World Education Services (WES) data for 2012 suggests that US higher education institutions – and by extension, institutions from other countries favoured by Arab students – should be prepared for an increase in the number of Arab students applying for spots in their programmes.

WES uses data on credential evaluation requests to predict applications for programmes in US institutions. When its analysts compared prospective international student volumes in Q1’2011 and Q1’2012, they discovered significant increases for Bahrain (180%), Egypt (41%), Jordan (73%), and Syria (90%).

The data can only be applied to the US, yet given the US’s position as a leading and indicative study abroad market, it is reasonable to expect that other study abroad destinations will see more Arab students apply for their study programmes as well.

WES thinks it is possible that the unrest fuelled by pro-democracy movements (aka the Arab Spring) may be contributing to the outward mobility trend:

“With government overthrow and protests in Egypt, intense violence in Syria, and ongoing protests in Bahrain and Jordan, these four countries continue to experience varying degrees of sociopolitical uncertainty and instability, which may be spurring students to look abroad for study and work opportunities. Bleak employment prospects and higher-education capacity constraints may also be contributing to the push factors driving outward student mobility.”

There is also a more positive factor spurring the surge in the number of Saudi Arabian students going to the US to study: the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP), into which the Saudi government invests fully 9 billion SAR (approximately 1.782 billion EUR) each year, providing full funding for 125,000 students for both undergraduate and graduate programmes abroad. WES notes the following of Saudi student trends in the US over the past five years:

“Total WES credential evaluations for Saudi applicants grew 394% between June 2007 and June 2011, with yearly increase of 59% (08/09), 88% (09/10), and 66% (10/11). The 88% spike in 2009-10 WES applications was mirrored a year later by the surge in overall enrollments shown in the 2010-11 IIE Open Doors data. In academic year 2010-11, enrollments at U.S. institutions of higher education grew 44% versus a three-year average of 26% growth between 2007 and 2010.”

The organisation also provided some details about the type of Saudi students who are coming to US institutions:

  • Two-thirds (66%) of Saudi applicants for WES evaluations have already completed a bachelor degree.
  • However, most are not applying for master’s level courses (20%) – most are studying at the undergraduate level (48%) or ESL/other (30%).
  • The main study backgrounds of Saudi students are Health Sciences (21%), Business Marketing & Finance (20%). and Computer Sciences (14%).
  • The top three fields of study among Saudi students in US higher education institutions in 2010/11 were: Intensive English, Engineering, and Business and Management.
  • Demographically, men made up 70% of Saudi applicants in 2011, but women had grown from 25% of the applicant pool in 2008 to 30% in 2011. Half (50%) of Saudi applicants were between the ages of 25 and 28.

WES predicts continued growth when it comes to Saudi students in US higher education institutions for coming years along the lines of the 26% seen between 2007 and 2010; not surprising given the Saudi government’s continued investment in KASP.

Sources: World Education Services

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