The number of Saudi students studying in American universities and colleges increased by 50 percent last year as the Gulf state pushed ahead with its international scholarship programme aimed at better equipping future generations for the workplace.
Graduates and undergraduates from the Gulf state totaled 34,139 for the 2011/12 academic year, according to a report by the Institute of International Education (IIE), which tracks student mobility data.
“Large increases in undergraduate students from Saudi Arabia, funded by the Saudi government, also help explain why international undergraduates studying in the United States now outnumber international graduate students for the first time in 12 years,” noted the report.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz launched the country’s international scholarship programme when he took the throne in 2005 as part of an effort to boost the Gulf state’s reliance on foreign employees and transform the country into a modern state.
King Abdullah launched the programme after persuading American officials to reopen the student visa service after 9/11.
The Saudi government invests around SAR9bn (US$2.4bn) in the programme each year and provides full funding for 125,000 undergraduate and graduates abroad. The initiative is currently open for students in medicine, medical science and health sciences with more options for graduate studies.
The number of foreign students studying in the United States increased six percent to a record high of 764,495 during the 2011/12 academic year boosted by significant growth in students from China and Saudi Arabia, said IIE.
Universities and colleges in New York were the most popular destination for foreign students while California hosted more than 100,000 foreign students for the first time this year.
Amongst the ten top most popular destinations, Pennsylvania, Florida and Indiana saw the largest increase in foreign student intake.
More than 70 percent of students from abroad receive the majority of their funds from sources outside of the United States, including personal and family sources and home country governments or universities, noted the report.