All doors to higher education are now closed to expatriate students in Saudi Arabia. After the Arab Spring, Arab expat children cannot study in universities either in the Kingdom or abroad.
For many expatriates, especially those from Arab countries, going back to study in their home countries is a risk. Expats also told Arab News that the private sector of higher education does not benefit them due to several reasons. The latest edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report confirmed that only 25 percent of expatriate students enrolled in private universities.
Despite the fact that there are 18 government universities for both male and female students around the Kingdom, expats find themselves left out. Currently, they are allowed to join courses in some of these universities only by paying fees up to SR 3,000 per semester.
However, these courses do not attract expatriate students, because most of them cover humanities and teacher training courses.
Arab News spoke to a number of expatriate families who are confused as to where to enroll their sons and daughters, especially when there are hardly any choices whether here in Saudi Arabia or abroad. They confirmed that they face obstacles that make pursuing a college education in the Kingdom difficult if not impossible.
“How can I send my son to study in Syria when the political situation is too complex there?” asked Nahed Halawani, a Syrian mother of an 18-year-old boy.
She added, “When my son was in his last year in high school between 2011 and beginning of 2012, I decided I would send him to Damascus for higher studies if the political situation was stable. Now I changed my mind because sending him to study in Syria is dangerous.”
Syria is not the only dangerous country. Political uncertainty is rife in countries such as Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen. “I don't see stability in Syria's neighbors — Lebanon and Jordan — either. Most political analysts expect unrest to spread,” said Halawani.
Hanan Madi, a Lebanese mother also expressed her fears over sending her daughter to study in Lebanon or Egypt.
“The Arab political street is boiling, and we can’t be sure about future political changes,” she said.
She added: “My Plan A was to send my daughter to study in Beirut, but this had to be canceled especially when both Lebanon and Syria are on fire.”
She said that her Plan B was to send her daughter to study in Egypt. But she is now afraid of sending her there. "What happened recently in the Sinai region bordering Israel increased my fears as war could erupt suddenly,” she said.
Both Halawani and Madi, thought about sending their children to study in private university at Jeddah, but they are faced with many obstacles.
“Given the average household income of most expatriates, and the fact that they have financial responsibilities toward their other children as well, SR 60, 000 to SR 70, 000 per year in college fees are too high,” said Halawani.
She added, “Besides paying this high amount of fees annually, most private colleges in Jeddah and Riyadh are not approved by the Syrian Ministry of Higher Education. If we return to Syria, my son will not be able to work there due to his Saudi certificate.”
Madi also told Arab News she couldn’t afford the high fees that Saudi universities are asking. “Saudi private universities charge very high fees. In addition, we hear about the shutdown of some private colleges, so we can’t ensure their validity,” she added.
Khalid Abo-Laban, a Palestinian student who had been studying medicine in Yemen before the start of Yemeni revolution, returned to the Kingdom recently, when he couldn’t continue his education there. “I returned to the Kingdom when education was suspended during the revolution. Now, after Ali Saleh stepped down, I want to go back but my parents refused. They still afraid of the intermittent clashes in Yemen and the weekly explosions,” he said.
He added: “My dad is still unsure about whether to allow me to continue my education in the Kingdom. Actually, I don’t prefer to enroll in Saudi private colleges of medicine, especially when two of well-known colleges had been asked by the Ministry of Higher Education to stop receiving students. Such sudden suspension increased my fears."
Arab News spoke to several sources in the Ministry of Higher Education, but they refused to comment on the issue. However, they confirmed that most expatriate students are looking for affordable colleges with fees that don’t exceeded SR 30,000.
“Unfortunately, such colleges are mostly fake,” the sources said.
However, some expatriate families prefer to send their children to universities in America and Europe, but they face difficulties getting visas especially after the Arab Spring.