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DUBAI: The recently updated Saudi scholarship program aims to once again push the Kingdom up the ranks as one of the top five markets for US colleges and universities in the coming years.

Saudi Arabia ranked third after China and India in 2015-2016, with almost 62,000 students studying in American universities, falling to fourth place in 2018-2019 with 40,000 students.

However, the emphasis on education under the Vision 2030 modernization project makes young Saudis an integral part of the economic and social reforms underway in the country.

More than $51 billion, or 18.9% of Saudi Arabia’s total budget, was allocated to education in 2020 to develop an education system that nurtures young talent while meeting changing labor market needs .

The revised approach of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques scholarship program, launched by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on March 7, aims to send more than 70,000 Saudi students to top universities and training institutes in the country. abroad by 2030.

Young Saudi men and women have set their sights on the best universities in the world in a highly competitive academic race. (AFP)

“The younger generation in Saudi Arabia is outward-looking and there is a huge demand and appetite to study abroad, especially in the United States more than anywhere else,” said Soraya Beheshti, Regional Director of Crimson. Education, a college admissions consulting firm.

The Pioneer Pathway, one of four pathways in the scholarship program, aims to send students to bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in any field at the top 30 educational institutions in the world.

Other pathways in the program include the Research and Development pathway, the Supplier pathway, and the Promising pathway, each intended to direct students to particular fields and training courses.

The study abroad culture is further encouraged by Saudi Arabia’s high income levels and the growth of the under-24 population of over 5 million, which has led to a noticeable trend of students self-financed abroad.

Measures to improve the country’s education system and plans to house five of the world’s top 200 universities over the next decade have ensured the Kingdom remains a key recruiting ground for agents and educators in the region.

According to Soraya Beheshti, Regional Director of Crimson Education, it’s best to let a student explore what excites them most and nurture that innate interest as a child. (Provided)

“GCC countries invest heavily in education and students tend to do well in international exams, but we are not sending a large number of students to top universities compared to what we could do,” he said. she declared.

Beheshti, who was Crimson’s first student from the Middle East, is creating the KSA branch of the organization in hopes of bridging the “information gap” in the admissions process and encouraging more Saudi students to apply to some of the best universities in the world.

Part of the problem can be attributed to students in the area who need higher SAT scores and better essay writing skills. Beheshti thinks many students underestimate the effort and time it takes to apply to an Ivy League school, let alone be accepted by a school.

Currently, acceptance rates from many universities and colleges, both in the US and UK, including University of California Los Angeles, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, Duke University and Oxford and Cambridge, vary between 4 and 8 percent, she says.

For many Saudi students applying to local universities, the requirements can be as minimal as sending in high school transcripts to secure a place just months before the start of their freshman year.

On the other hand, the decision to explore the best universities abroad can be an overwhelming experience and sometimes more of an option for senior high school students.

Saudi Arabia ranked third after China and India in 2015-2016, with almost 62,000 students studying in American universities, falling to fourth place in 2018-2019 with 40,000 students. (AFP)

Most of the top 30 universities in the world have an application deadline that falls one year before the start of the first academic semester.

However, students applying in time will also need to think outside the box in order to come up with the best presentation of themselves.

In addition to demonstrating outstanding grades on their transcripts, students must ensure that their extracurricular activities are nothing less than outstanding so that their application stands out among thousands of others.

Most top-ranked universities base 40% of their decision on academics, 30% on extracurricular activities and 30% on essays and recommendations when reviewing an applicant, Beheshti said.

Students applying to universities through Crimson are assigned a personalized team, which may include a student success manager or education coordinator, a strategist, individual tutors, and an extracurricular leadership mentor.

QUICKFACTS

* The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Scholarship Program is based on three strategic pillars.

* Aims to send 70,000 students to 200 accredited overseas institutions by 2030.

* Emphasizes early planning for the future education of young students.

* Strive to elevate the Kingdom’s competitiveness locally and globally.

* Committed to supporting graduates returning from study abroad.

Students also have access to professors from top universities and receive assistance with research, academic visits, and writing mentorship several months before application season, which runs between September and January.

“Young people are full of ideas, and it’s really hard to understand the first steps and then the next steps to actually turn the ideas into a real project,” Beheshti said.

“If we look at Stanford University, for example, 40,000 students apply each term and about 37,000 have the grades to be considered. Yet tens and thousands are eliminated not because of academics, but simply because of their candidacy essays and/or extracurricular activities.

“Our opinion is not that these students don’t have good after-school programs – it’s that they all look the same as everyone else. Students who want to succeed are going to have to think differently.

Saudi Arabia aims to host five of the world’s top 200 universities over the next decade as part of Vision 2030. (Supplied)

To have a chance of being accepted, students must make great sacrifices and work hard to excel in the areas that interest them, as well as change their thinking to match the approach taken by students in markets such as China and India, Beheshti said.

“In both countries, they see tutoring like athletes see coaching,” she said.

“In many countries, we think of tutoring as something you do when you’re behind and want to catch up. They see it as “you can be the best athlete in the world, but you still need a coach to help you improve.”

Likewise, a strategist helps students determine long-term goals, the most appropriate majors and careers, and guides them in personal development and ways to manage stress throughout the admissions process.

“I predict that more Saudi students will study abroad in the coming years, and what is amazing is that many people who want to study outside the Kingdom want to come back and contribute to the country,” said Beheshti.

Upon their return, the Saudi Scholarship Program is committed to helping graduates improve their preparation to join the local and global job market.

Additionally, companies such as Kaplan, which provide education and training services to colleges, universities, businesses, and individuals around the world, share the same goal.

“The higher education of young nationals is essential to bridge the gap between education and the world of work, allowing young national graduates to advance in their careers with a positive attitude and a willingness to adapt to the culture of company,” said Fiona McBride, Managing Director. from Kaplan Professional Middle East.

The younger generation in Saudi Arabia is outward looking and the demand for study abroad is huge. (SPA)

According to McBride, with the arrival of leading international organizations in the Gulf region, the demand for talented individuals has increased significantly over the past decade.

“Employers are looking for talented people who not only have technical expertise, but also a range of soft skills such as leadership, confidence and decision-making abilities to excel in their jobs,” she said. at Arab News.

The labor market indicates a significant increase in all sectors in the need for professional skills such as data and financial analysis, accounting, artificial intelligence, customer service and project management.

As a result, students should try to ‘future’ themselves by striving to acquire professional qualifications in their career path.

Integration into the labor market is not without challenges, she said, adding: “The expectations of new Saudi graduates to explore, innovate and be unconventional may take some time to materialize. ‘be satisfied because of the traditional mindset of employers in the region’.

Nonetheless, the rapid pace of change and acceptance in the country should serve as a “ray of hope for young people” and encourage them to explore the vast opportunities the country has to offer, McBride said.

Another challenge new grads face is navigating the workplace and understanding the work culture. Likewise, this can be addressed with proper training that will ensure graduates are ready for the working environment, she said.

However, the key to finding the right position dates back to the beginning of a person’s educational journey.

Beheshti believes in encouraging “healthy ambition” and creating an environment where failure is accepted.

“It’s best to let a student explore the thing they’re most passionate about and nurture that innate interest as a child,” she said.

Such an approach ensures that the student is “ready to put in the time and effort to succeed” throughout their academic and professional life.

Norma A. Roth