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Author: 
MOHAMED A. RAMADY
Publication Date: 
Tue, 2011-01-25 01:16

The GCC economies have been so far  shielded, along with countries such as Algeria and Libya, by
their oil and gas revenues, which enabled them to provide a social cushion and
government-driven job generation schemes, but sometimes at a cost in low
productivity. The Gulf countries rightly believe that an educated society will
contribute towards nation building and induce economic growth and prosperity in
the long run, with the added aim of building a more diversified economic base
and laying the foundation of knowledge based economies. Governments hope that
with basic infrastructure being built with sustained public expenditure
support, the private sector would gradually assume the role of generating more
employment for citizens.
Again these are laudable aspirations, but it is the pace of
anticipated private sector job creation, as well as the type and quality  of graduate output to match the needs
of the private sector,  that are
the critical issues for No country has a perfect blue print for solving
graduate unemployment, and the alarming number of unemployed youth is not only
applicable to the Arab World ,but is also becoming a frightening phenomena for
advanced economies around the world, as the recent student demonstrations in
the UK so vividly highlighted. The British students who rampaged in London were
also expressing their frustration at being led to believe that, after years of
education and gaining of qualifications, they not only faced fewer jobs due to
the financial and economic crisis, but they were also indebted before they even
put their feet on the first steps of 
their  professional career
ladder.
In the Gulf, and in Saudi Arabia in particular, education
has played an important role in government budgetary expenditures, with nearly
a quarter of all expenditures going to that sector. Over the years, the
government and private sector educational establishments have tried to match
their graduate output to match the needs of the private sector, with more
engineering and science based graduates coming out of the system. The King
Abdullah Scholarship Scheme has also added to the Kingdom’s varied graduate and
specialist education program, by placing over 110,000 students abroad, and with
more scholarships planned over the next few years. Of the current scholars,
nearly 2000 are in the medical field, mostly in Canada and the US, and, by all
accounts they have demonstrated high technical and professional skills which
can be easily absorbed into the Saudi medical sector when they return back to
the Kingdom. However, like any other well meaning program, one learns as one
goes along. 
The dropout rate from the scholarship program, according to
the Ministry of Higher Education, has been low at fewer than 2,500, while
another 3,600 students have had to take an extra year of intensive coaching to
improve their GPA grades before being readmitted to their host academic
institutions.  The above has led to
a more intensive effort at ensuring that student pre-selection for scholarship
admission is carried out more rigorously to reduce the drop out rate, given the
costs incurred to the State.
The Ninth Saudi Five Year Plan for the period 2010-2014 has
earmarked a massive SR 731 billion on human resource development and education,
or nearly 51 % of the planned SR 1.4 trillion expenditure.  At the same time, it is forecasted that
around 350,000 additional job opportunities are to be created by the private
sector during the planned period, an ambitious, but possible task only if
graduates can also lower their expectations on the type of jobs that they might
have to do after graduating. Unlike Tunisia and other Arab countries less
endowed with natural resources, and where any type of jobs are eagerly sought
out by graduates, a key issue in the Gulf is that graduates expectations are
sometimes not  realistic and  set overly high, despite the
availability of jobs in many sectors. This is also changing, albeit slowly, but
the images from Tunisia has been a wake up call for the entire Arab world to
try and meet young people’s employment aspirations in a realistic manner
quickly, and so avoid a built up of frustration and expectations...
 
— Professor Mohamed A. Ramady is a former banker and
currently visiting associate professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum and
Minerals, Dhahran.
 
 

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