Saudi Arabia Opens Up to Foreign Universities, Will Allow Branch Campuses in the Kingdom

Universities around the world can now open branch campuses in the Kingdom, the Saudi Cabinet said on Tuesday, in a move that will “achieve a qualitative leap in … empowerment, excellence and quality,” Education Minister Dr. Hamad Al-Sheikh said.

“The new system will allow foreign universities to open branches in accordance to specific regulations to boost competitiveness to raise efficiency of the university education,” Al-Sheikh told the official Saudi news agency SPA. The new law ensures “independence for the universities in line with the general policy of the state,” officials said.

According to Gulf News, under the law, a council for universities’ affairs will be set up with membership of a number of governmental agencies and representatives of the private sector. Each university will have a board of trustees to help achieve governance, and international consultative councils will be created to expand the decision-making base, Al Shaikh said.

“The new system will be gradually applied, starting with three universities in the first stage with a one-year transitional period,” Al-Sheikh said.

The minister pointed out that the new law allows universities to “activate their own resources, allows them to establish endowments and companies, and enable them to approve their specialties and programs. The universities can choose their leaders on the basis of efficiency, and improve their outputs in response to the needs of the labor market, in addition to creating job opportunities for the citizens in universities on the basis of competitiveness.”

For years, Saudi Arabia sent hundreds of thousands of students abroad to learn from foreign universities in order to bring knowledge and experience back into the Kingdom.

Arab News quoted Mishaal Al-Khudair, 28, who had planned to complete her higher education abroad, who welcomed the move. “They’re trying to give us opportunities to have a top-notch education without needing to leave the country….It’s a good opportunity for those wanting to stay here while studying, whether to avoid expenses or to be close to their friends and family. Increasing the number of institutions that give high-quality education will have a monumental impact.”