Saudi’s higher education achievements & challenges …….global assessment & international experts’ views



Saudi Arabia is experiencing an aggressive investment in the key pillar of the knowledge-based economy, namely, education and learning, innovation, and information technology. This has been reflected in the international reports.

For example, with the implementation of the reform plans of Saudi Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) through launching several higher education initiatives in technical readiness and infrastructures, Saudi Arabia is starting to take a prominent place in the scientific and technical domains, both regionally and internationally.

These reform plans are being carried out through transforming Saudi universities into \”functional developmental institutes\” via a careful balance of international academic standards, national needs, local cultural identity, and careful management of knowledge production, management, dissemination, access, and control.

I. Remarkable achievements for Saudi Arabia that have been documented in international reports.

The following fruits for several Saudi higher education initiatives and projects that focused on achieving excellence and the international standards started to appear in the international report.

  • Recent international university rankings have shown that Saudi Arabia-based universities have joined the ¬international league table of the world’s top universities. According to June 2010 Webometrics of World Universities, 3 universities were among top 200 world universities and 6 universities were included in the top 10 universities in the Arab gulf states, Arab world and Islamic states. Also, Saudi Arabia was ranked 31 globally with reference to the efficiency of higher education system. In 2009, King saud Univeristy was also admitted to the academic ranking of World univeristies, known as shanghai ranking, within the top 500 international universities and the sole Arabic University.
  • The leading business school in Europe has ranked Saudi Arabia in 2010 at 54th place in the world, 17th in the Asian region and 5th in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, citing its high marks in the index’s investment in education, technology transfer and knowledge applications.
  • Saudi Arabia ranks 38th globally according to the ninth annual Global Information Technology Report (GITR) 2010 released on 25 March 2010. In general, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 4 in the Arab world. However, It was ranked first and second with regard to university-industry collaboration in R&D and quality of scientific research institutions respectively.
  • Saudi Arabia is gaining strong international position in innovation capacity as a result of its ambitious efforts for higher education reform, according to international reports including Global Competitiveness Index (GCI),, World intellectual property (IP) indicators and Google studies.

With reference to the number of utility patents granted in 2008 per million populations, GCI positioned Saudi Arabia at 45 places ahead of India and Brazil. It was also announced at Google Day Arabia 2.0 held last February that there was only a total of 3,224 patents filed from the Middle East and North Africa region in the last thirteen years, with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco on the top. The World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) 2009 \”World IP Indicators\” revealed that 2008 Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) filling in Saudi Arabia was 60 with average annual growth rate of 16.5 in the period 2003-2008.

  • The 2009 World Economic Forum recognized Saudi Arabia among the top 30 most competitive economies in its annual GCI Report putting it in 28 position out of 133 countries studies.

In the innovation capacity section, Saudi Arabia has surpassed advanced economies such as Portugal, Spain, France and Russia as well as knowledge-intensive economies such as India and Brazil.

  • Based on scientific and technological productivity, namely, publication of research in established journals, Saudi Arabia was ranked number four among the Top 10 most scientifically productive countries in the Muslim world.
  • Recent study published in June 2010 by London-based royal society puts Saudi Arabia on the top of gulf countries and the second position in the Arab world with reference to scientific productivity.
  • The UNCTAD innovation capacity index has put Saudi Arabia at 55 out of 117 countries, ahead of Turkey, Malaysia, Brazil and China, according to World investment report. It also put Saudi Arabia at 3 position on the Arab level and 4th on the Islamic world level.
  • While women constitute only slightly more than one-quarter of the world’s researchers, women represent 17 % of total Saudi researchers which is higher than that in Germany (12%), Japan (12%) and Korea (11%), and the same as in Luxembourg, according to a recent UNESCO report entitled \”women in science: under-represented and under-measured\” . Also Saudi women outnumber western women in worldwide university enrolments and graduation rates, according to 2009 Global Education Digest of UNESCO.

II. Higher education key to new development plan

Saudi Arabia has approved the Ninth Five-Year Development Plan for the period from 2010 to 2014 which dedicated the lion’s share at 50.6 percent to human resource development including education and training in abid to reinforce the Kingdom’s goal of creating a knowledge-based society.

On 10 August, the Saudi Council of Ministers has approved the plan which will see a 67 percent increase in spending on the previous five-year plan to a record new total of $385 Billion.

The Ninth Five-Year Plan includes increasing the capacity of universities to 1.7 million students.

A number of new facilities will be built, including 25 technology colleges, 28 technical institutes, and 50 industrial training institutes. The government will also expand and diversify the post-graduate programmes offered within the Kingdom and seek to increase the amount of post-graduate students to 5 percent of all university students.

The plan also encourages innovation in science and technology by providing US $ 240 million in grants for research projects each year. Other initiatives include the establishment of 10 research centers, 15 university technological innovation centers in association with King Abdullah City for Science and Technology (KACST), and at least eight technology incubators at KACST and other universities. The government will also continue to promote university collaboration with international companies.

III. International experts views

(1) Innovation readiness in Saudi Arabia …. Progress & obstacles

\”The Saudi Government is to be applauded for its efforts to build its university system. It has embarked on a very long term venture, since a world class university takes decades to develop under the best of circumstances.\”John Daly, a science and technology consultant and a former director of office of research at US Agency for International Development (USAID), said.

\”The development of a knowledge-based society is a laudable goal, and I hope Saudi Arabia is successful in its efforts to do so.\” Daly concluded.

\”I think that Saudi Arabia has a very good position in this year GITR ranking and has made a solid progress in the matter compared to other Arab countries.\”, Tawfik Jelassi, professor of e-Business and Information Technology, and Co-Dean of the School of International Management at the France-based Ecole nationale des ponts et chaussées, Paris.

The weakest output pillar for Saudi Arabia is the dimension of “Creative Outputs

\”Saudi Arabia is ranked overall 54th. However its innovation efficiency, or its success in transforming the innovation enablers into innovation outputs is low – ranked 126th in the world. Thus while Saudi Arabia has made many investments over the last years in improving its innovation inputs, care needs to be taken to ensure that these investments lead to actual innovative outputs.\” Soumitra Dutta, the author of the GII report, Roland Berger Professor of Business and Technology and Academic Director of eLab at INSEAD, France

With reference to science & technology as well as higher education efforts in Saudi Arabia, Dutta said \”Saudi Arabia ranks a respectable 30th overall in the important dimension of human capacity. This does not mean that all is well. While Saudi Arabia is investing a lot of money into education (ranked 6th in the world), the overall quality of the education system is ranked 59th and the quality of its management schools is ranked 78th.

\”Again, Saudi Arabia has the potential to do more on the science and technology dimension – for example, it is ranked 65th on publications – it should aim for a higher rank as it has a high quality of human capital.\” Dutta pointed out.

Dutta indicated that \”The weakest output pillar for Saudi Arabia is the dimension of “Creative Outputs”. This is a sector which needs to be encouraged further within Saudi Arabia.\”

IV. The way forward for promoting innovation

For Saudi Arabia to promote innovation and improve its position in the index as well as direct pro-innovation policies to jump start growth in the medium term and lead to development in the long term, Dutta said \” Saudi Arabia has taken many of the right steps to invest in its innovative capacity. It has to be aware of its weaknesses, work continuously to improve on them and benchmark against world class innovative economies.\”

\”It is possible to make progress on the innovation dimension through a combination of right policies and good human capital – other countries have done the same. So can Saudi Arabia!\” Dutta concluded.

\”Saudi Arabia has obviously begun the process of building IP management capacity,\” said Richard Gold, professor at Canada-based McGill University and president of the international expert group \”The Innovation Partnership TIP\”

Gold said \”We know that no innovation-intensive centre exists without at least one strong university and a community that is educated. This is an issue in Saudi Arabia, as its tertiary enrollment ranks 72nd in the world.\”

\”While patented inventions are important for a rising economy, the transfer of tacit knowledge may be more important still. This occurs, for example, through the training of students (particularly graduate students) who then move into industry or start their own businesses. Attracting and retaining highly skilled graduates is an important factor in maintaining innovation.\” Gold stressed.

\” What we at TIP have found in our consulting work in emerging economies is that countries such as Saudi Arabia must extend the process of building IP management capacity beyond patent filing to include research management capacity including negotiating and managing research agreements and consortia agreements, reporting and so on.\” Gold suggested.

Gold pointed out that Saudi must also build capacity in licensing in and out technology and building research consortia in the region.

\”As for education, it must continue to build its graduate programmes, encourage the free investigation of scientific ideas at universities, and find ways to encourage graduate students to continue their careers in Saudi Arabia whether in universities, industry or in their own businesses. The country already benefits from good laboratories and research facilities but needs to encourage the growth and increase in sophistication of these institutions.\” Gold concluded.