Mark Rentz’s piece on Keys to the Kingdom, which detailed the importance of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, couldn’t have come at a more pressing time. Saudi Arabia has been an important sender of students around the world, and only six days after this publication, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz – founder of the scholarship program – was pronounced clinically dead at the age of 89 as doctors used a defibrillator to unsuccessfully revive him (although he is currently reported to be alive only with the help of a ventilator).
To understand the gravity of this event, one must understand the importance of one of his greatest achievements, the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP). 2005 marked the beginning of KASP which provided generous scholarships to Saudi students studying overseas at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level. Spending upwards of $5 billion dollars, this became one of the most well-funded scholarships in the world covering not only their tuition, but also providing students with a monthly stipend, materials allowance, airfare vouchers, scholarships for spouses, funds for English language classes and complete health and dental insurance. Students also receive extra allowances when they receive high grade point averages as well as published papers and research.
The significance, you may ask? Consider this. The Open Doors Report stated that in 2004, Saudi Arabia had 3,521 international students in the US making it the 31st largest sender of international students to the US. Last year, seven years after the KASP program went into effect, the number of Saudi students in the US jumped to 34,139 making it the fourth largest sender of international students to the US. The King Abdullah Scholarship Program funds over 130,000 students to study abroad in over 46 countries. Of these students, it is reported that 90% are funded through this scholarship.
Originally a five-year program at its inception, the King Abdullah Scholarship Program was extended for two years in 2007 and again in 2009 for an additional three years due to its success in addressing the needs of higher education among the youth in Saudi Arabia. Many industry leaders are now concerned about the impact of the King’s death and how that will affect the future of KASP.
Luckily, the program was extended prior to his death for the third phase of five years beginning from November 2015 however there is word circulating that it was extended to 2020. Even as word spreads of the extension to 2020, the future of KASP is still uncertain. While many people around the world applaud its efforts and successes, it is hoped that the administration will continue to place priority on this program that has helped so many young Saudis get an international degree, furthered their language acquisition skills and opened the door to cultural immersion.
What will the new leadership do without the King? Will it continue to remain an investment priority for the government of Saudi Arabia? Share your thoughts with us and let us know what this could mean to your institution.