Saudi Arabia: Is A University Degree Necessary?

In a recent opinion piece published in the Saudi Gazette, my dear friend, Tariq Al-Meeana, shares his perspectives on whether Saudi nationals should be pushed or pressured to obtain University degrees.

There is a strong emphasis in Saudi Arabia for its citizens to have a University degree, in some cases whether they intend to actually use it or not.  For example, in some circles, a University degree is considered a cachet for a Saudi woman interested in marriage.  In many places, a University degree will make the distinction at what level and what salary a Saudi employee can achieve.

The King Abdullah Scholarship program allows thousands of Saudi citizens to apply for educational scholarships both within and outside of Saudi Arabia.  The scholarship program covers the tuition fees, costs of books, housing and substance for the student with the intent that the student can dedicate all the necessary time to study and obtain good grades.

But what about the students who may not be higher achievers or may be lazy?   What can they do?  The less scrupulous have taken the easy man’s way out and have purchased an online degree through a ‘diploma mill.’  Fortunately, the Ministry of Higher Education identified 110 agencies which sold online degrees from non-Saudi universities and is taking action.

So this further reinforces the question which I share with Tariq Al-Meeana is whether a University degree is required?  Given that the number of Saudi nationals under the age of 16 make up the majority of the Saudi population, arrangements should be made now to accommodate the massive influx of future college age citizens.

While Saudi Arabia does an exemplary job in providing University level education for its nationals, not all individuals are best suited for college.  Some may even prefer to have alternative choices such as technical schools, trade schools, nursing schools and other specialized schools which will also ensure that they can pursue a valid and fulfilling career.

What is YOUR view on a college education?  Should it always be the first option for a high school graduate to pursue?  Why or why not?

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11 Responses

  1. A nursing degree requires at least four years of college – BSN.

  2. That’s true and thanks for pointing out my oversight. Maybe an institute where one could obtain a CNA certificate? Although I think it would probably be a challenge to find Saudi’s wanting to pursue a career as a certified nursing assistant. Come to think of it, I don’t remember any CNA’s while I was in Saudi as an in-patient.

  3. You do not need a four year degree to become a RN. You do for a BSN but not all RN’s have BSNs.

  4. My opinion (in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else) is that anyone thinking of pursuing a college degree needs to ask themselves the following questions:

    1.) “What do I want to do for a career?”
    2.) “Why can’t I do it without this degree?”

    If the answer to either of those questions is “I don’t know,” they’d be well advised to think twice before throwing four years of their life and tens of thousands of dollars at a degree they may or may not ever benefit from having.

    Many Saudi graduates end up either not working at all (because entry-level positions are considered beneath the dignity of a Saudi, and are filled by foreign workers), or being set up for failure by being hired at a position with too much responsibility for someone with no work experience (that a non-Saudi fresh graduate would never have been considered for). That’s one example of how government incentives for hiring citizens can backfire by contributing to stereotypes that Khaleejis are lazy and incompetent.

    A Saudi woman who never intends to work would be better off if the cost of a college education was given to her outright as cash. That would ensure she has some financial resources of her own in the event of divorce or other family drama. Sadly, most degrees won’t do that in Saudi Arabia, because having a degree in a particular subject doesn’t mean she’ll be allowed to work in that field. (I’m not suggesting the Saudi government start writing checks to all women; I’m merely questioning whether paying for their degrees in fields they can’t work in is the most beneficial use of resources.)

    I’m gonna vote ‘no’ on this, because Saudi society doesn’t need more people with degrees; the current generation has a higher college graduation rate than many countries, possibly because the government makes it so easy. They need more citizens (with and without college degrees) who are willing to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

  5. Globally, the trend has been for the last 10-15 yrs, to get a hands-on “occupational/vocational degree” requiring about 2-3 yrs vocational education/hands-on internships: nursing, lab tech, radiology tech, medical assistant, computer security, etc etc. These “graduates” have jobs waiting for them with good pay in the burgeoning healthcare industry, computer field and other growth industries. Depends on the “vocation” but I have known radiology techs who command a very decent salary of $40-50K upon graduation!

    I have seen many a young graduate with BS or MS or even PhDs flipping burgers at McDonalds or doing pizza deliveries or doing stints as cabbies. Unlike their peers with “vocational’ degrees, sure they have “higher” degrees but have no marketable skills (especially liberal art, english, drama majors). Many times, getting “degrees” has become a status symbol because of parent/peer pressure or marriage marketability, etc.

  6. I always feel there is value ineducation — any education. But it behoves kids to first find something that interests thema nd then get educated int hat field. be it trade school or college education higher education is NEVER a waste.
    Our talk to both our kids told them they were free to pursue any college degree. however if they were prone to taking up fine arts drama etc., we asked them to find something that would get them a job at the end of which, maybe teaching drama???? at the end of the degree we wanted them employable – if not then they had to pursue that major onthe side as a hobby not their main course of study…

    For a while my son was the king of flip flop thankfully he settleed down by his jr yr in high school.

    my niece is a lit major and a phd and she loves it, not very marketable but she teaches lang arts andloves it. so there is a job for every course just have to identify it. As for saudi women sitting at home after a degree so what? it’s the journey . they have aquired the self-discipline, patient and commitment to learning and finishing something which may come in use later…
    i would never dissuade anyone from wanting to study, even if they planned to sit at homeand do absolutely nothing…

  7. I really enjoyed reading @radhaa’s comment on this subject. It was very well put. I am not from Saudi Arabia, but the subject is something a lot of students like myself can relate to. Do we need higher level education? Many of my friends who have obtained degrees are struggling to find jobs (majority took accounting or business) and I myself am working on my anthropology degree, which is not as marketable and difficult to find work in the field. But as radhaa said, there is a job for every course. You may have to get creative and step outside the box to make yourself employable but it can be done. As well, getting a degree is about the journey. Many people don’t use their degrees but you can’t take the sense of accomplishment away from them.

  8. Education is always a good thing. If a woman can afford to go to university then she should. The question should never be will the education be used in a job because all education is valuable whether in a job, career or just life.

  9. Forging documents, qualifications, diploma, marriage certificate or even bicycle riding licence is a criminal offence and often not tolerated by most judiciary systems round the world. Relaxation of the law in this arena will have grave consequences and must be taken seriously in order to close the door on the potential corruption.
    Governments Education Policy are often tied in to the country’s inspiring goal and ambitions taking into account the future needs, ability, desire, available capacity, affordability and national pride. Achieving the desired Scope requires a long term strategy and appropriate investment. Obtaining academic qualifications is far from a race, a tool to impress or instrument to climb organisational ladders, on the contrary it requires willingness, attitudes and desire to provide expertise demanded at the national level.
    One must distinguish between producing academically qualification personnel and those with ability to lead, manage, produce, deliver and basically make a difference. Ideally educational establishment would help and guide the young population to achieve their best potential to fulfil the country’s needs in all aspects of life also satisfies the efficiency criteria. In the ideal world, the Doctors, Teachers, Musician, Artist, Opticians, Engineers, Lawyers, Dentist …etc are trusted and well deserved qualified professionals; presented as gifts to the country. Who favours the risk of going to a corrupt dentist, optician or a doctor with a life threatening consequences not to mention rest of the trades?
    Also see – Three Types of Literacy criteria

    http://nces.ed.gov/naal/literacytypes.asp

    The target could be very tough so do not be relaxed about the standards too.

    http://education-portal.com/articles/Grim_Illiteracy_Statistics_Indicate_Americans_Have_a_Reading_Problem.html

  10. To clarify, my statement about Saudi women wasn’t limited to women – I’d say (and have said) the exact same thing to men who have no clear-cut plans for using their degrees, and the same applies to Saudi men who have no intention of doing anything other than living off the family fortune for the rest of their lives.

    If someone wants to pursue higher education solely because they enjoy it, or for their own personal enrichment, or even for social status, that’s all well and good as long as they can afford it. If they can’t, though, they need to accept that it’s closer to an expensive hobby than it is to an investment, and prioritize it as such when making financial decisions. I know better than most how limited women’s options are in Saudi Arabia, but paying for teenagers to grow up and find themselves, with no expectation of a financial return on that investment, isn’t a reasonable use of government funds in any country.

    It’s great that some Saudi women get to spend four years studying subjects they enjoy, but if the MoHE is funding it on large scale, there needs to be some greater social goal. Maybe the unspoken hope is that college-educated women, and the men who marry them, are less likely to object to their daughters working in the future, so workplace segregation could be less extreme for future generations? Saudi culture has gotten to the point where education is almost completely separated from any expectation of employment, for both genders, so I’m not sure how likely that is to actually happen. I do hope it’s a prelude to social change, but realistically, it’s probably just governmental mismanagement.

  11. sheerazy, on June 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm said: Forging documents, qualifications, diploma, marriage certificate or even bicycle riding licence is a criminal offence and often not tolerated by most judiciary systems round the world.

    Another very preceptive statement by Sheerazi!

    Along the same lines about “forging documents”, I understand members of parliament in pakistan require a minimum of bachelor degree in order to run in an election. If I recall, over 80% of the current parlimentarians have “forged” degrees from diploma mills. The election commission identified those individuals and none of them were able to provide proper authentication.

    Because of the high degree of corruption that permeates the pakistani society, judiciary has obviously tolerated this, since all those politicians with forged degrees are still serving in the parliament. This used to be in the news quite a bit, but no more!

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