The Ministry of Higher Education in Saudi Arabia claims that there has been a sharp growth in university enrollment largely because of an increase in the income levels of Saudi families and greater interest among women to pursue tertiary education.
World Bank figures suggest that the per capita income in Saudi Arabia climbed to SR 81,200 in 2011. A recent report of the ministry for the academic year 2011 points out that university admissions have recorded an impressive growth rate of 10.3 percent annually. Although the income levels have increased, most of the academic institutions have offered “free” education.
The report also highlights that the number of young women seeking university degrees has also grown at a fast pace. During 2011, women accounted for more than half of the total enrolled students at these institutions of higher learning. Their enrollment has improved significantly because of a “positive shift in the social stance toward women’s education, women are getting more encouragement and new opportunities for education”. The number of women enrolled in different university degree programs in the Kingdom is estimated at 523,583.
Humanities and arts majors remained the most popular among women, with around 209,000 women enrolled in these programs. Further, about 98,000 women chose to study social sciences, business management and law. Technical subjects, like engineering and industrial production courses, remained on the lower end of spectrum as only 9,000 women enrolled in these courses. Women students also embraced the opportunity to study abroad with about 27,510 of them benefiting from the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Project. Around36 percent of the scholarship students opted for specialized courses in social sciences, law and business management, while 18.3 percent studied engineering and productive industries.
As Arab states seek to become regional and global economic powerhouses, education is gaining top priority in government policy making. Recently, the UAE also reported around 11 percent increase in student enrollment at Dubai universities.