The number of Saudis studying at US universities has soared to 110,000 this year, from a few thousand in the years following the 2001 terrorist attack, according to the US Department of Commerce.
The rise follows both King Abdullah’s mission to ensure well-educated Saudis to help run the kingdom, and the US’s bid to boost its economy.
Saudis faced tough US entry restrictions following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, in which 11 of the plane hijackers were Saudi.
The number of students dwindled from more than 5000 to only 1000 in 2004, according to the US State Department.
But this academic year Saudi Arabia sent 66,000 students to US universities, making it the fastest-growing source of foreign students in the US, ahead of China, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
There are now a total of 111,000 Saudis studying in the US, according to the Department of Commerce.
The Saudi influx is part of a broader increase – more than 30 percent in the past decade - in international students in the US as American universities seek to raise tuition revenues, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The US had been luring students with the promise of a mosque and halal food, the newspaper said.
International students – which surpassed 723,000 in 2010-11 – contributed $22.7bn to the US economy in 2011.
King Abdullah introduced the foreign scholarship program in 2005 after convincing US President George Bush that it would help to improve relations between the two countries.
This year, the scholarship program has about 130,000 young people studying around the world, at an estimated cost of at least $5bn since the program began, according to the WSJ.
The Saudi government raised the financial allocation by 21 percent compared to 2012, according to Arab News. Education spending accounted for 25 percent of the Kingdom’s public spending for the year 2013.
“The Saudi government is interested in sending its students to the best universities in the world. American universities represent a top priority for the Saudi government in spite of the high costs of living. In view of this, the Kingdom has allocated SR10 billion to send Saudi students to the US,” Farooq Al-Kateeb, a former professor of economics at the King Abdul Aziz University and financial analyst, told Arab News.
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