ISLAMABAD: New scholarships to increase the number of Saudi students studying in Pakistan will strengthen interpersonal and cultural ties between the two nations, Saudi Arabia’s cultural attache to Pakistan said.
The scholarships are among a wide range of education initiatives to bolster links between the two countries.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been staunch allies with the Kingdom assisting Pakistan financially in recent decades. In recent years, efforts have also been made to strengthen cultural ties. About 3 million Pakistanis currently live in Saudi Arabia.
“We plan to bring Saudi students to study here in engineering and medical colleges since there are excellent universities here,” Dr. Ali Mohammed Hawsawi, the Kingdom’s cultural attache, told Arab News in an interview.
The cultural envoy said Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were exploring new educational avenues, including more scholarships for Saudi students to study in Pakistan, joint research ventures and faculty exchange programs between universities in both nations.
“I have visited some universities and will visit more in Lahore,” Hawsawi said. “We hope to build relationships and collaborations between our universities in research and across academic operations.”
Last year, Saudi Arabia announced 583 fully funded scholarships for Pakistani students in all disciplines, except health and medicine, at 23 leading universities in the Kingdom. The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan will process all applications and award 400 scholarships for bachelor’s degrees, 100 for master’s degrees and 83 for Ph.D. students wanting to pursue an education at Saudi universities.
“I expect a list of Pakistani students will arrive at my office within two to three weeks. We will send applications to the ministry of education in Saudi Arabia,” Hawsawi said. “Then we will be happy to welcome Pakistani students from next year.”
Hawsawi said students coming to Saudi Arabia would receive monthly stipends as well as accommodations and study materials.
“Everything will be free for them,” he said. “Scholarships between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have a long history, and you see many graduates of Saudi here today in Pakistan,” he said.
Previously, students from Pakistan were limited to pursuing Islamic studies and Arabic languages in Makkah, Madinah and Riyadh, but now they can study all subjects across universities in Saudi Arabia, Hawsawi said.
“Now studies are open in everything — science, biology, all the subjects. Similarly, the whole country is now open to Pakistani students. Through my office, we have found universities across Saudi Arabia that can give scholarships.”
The envoy said the Kingdom was home to a large Pakistani diaspora, and cultural similarities had created lasting bonds between the two nations.
“In Saudi Arabia, there are almost 3 million Pakistanis and nobody feels out of place,” he said. “Especially with Makkah and Madinah — Pakistani students are very happy when they find a chance to go there.
“A Pakistani student in Saudi Arabia will feel like they are in their own country; there is comfort in this,” Hawsawi said. “In eating, drinking and worship, our mosques, masjids — the student won’t find or feel that he is in a strange place.”
Amna Shahnawaz Qureshi, a Pakistani university student in Riyadh, said: “Saudi Arabia appreciates cultural diversity. The educational initiatives being taken are going to make the Saudi-Pakistan bond stronger and longer lasting.”