In its drive to flesh out a knowledge-based economy, the Saudi government is giving much needed attention to the education sector. More than a quarter of planned budgetary spending is dedicated to education and capital spending in the sector is expected to rise 34.4% in 2008. The number of universities is also on the rise – from eight to more than 20 since 2004 – but the Kingdom will still have trouble keeping up with the demand emanating from its massive young population.
Amid growing discontent with the public school system, to which over 90% of Saudi students attend, the private school industry is seen as a growth industry, as is the e-learning industry, which was expected to have hit $125m in value in 2008. One private university, Alfaisal University in Riyadh, hopes to cultivate valuable connections to the international scientific world through a new research agreement with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Lack of interest in science and engineering fields among tertiary students contributes to the growing skills gap in the Kingdom, a trend the government is aiming to reverse. In due time, the investment in education is expected to help curb national unemployment and the economy's reliance on foreign labour.