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Saudi Council Links Programme Enrolments to Labour Market Needs

Seeking to double admissions to health, engineering, applied, and business faculties, the Saudi Council of Universities’ Affairs is reconsidering the relationship between academic curricula and the labour market.

Recent decisions by the council include reducing student admissions by at least 50 percent in disciplines that do not match the kingdom’s labour market needs, and increasing admissions to applied colleges whose graduates are in demand.

The decision on programme enrolments will be in place for five years and subject to evaluation after three years by a committee chaired by the deputy minister of education for universities, research and innovation.

In other decisions issued last month, the council also decided to convert 40 theoretical faculties in some Saudi governorates into applied health, technical, and engineering colleges, bringing the number of applied faculties to 75.

In a statement, the Saudi minister of education, Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sheikh, explained that these decisions aimed to raise the efficiency of the Saudi higher-education system and ensure that its outputs keep pace with national goals and needs.

Criteria for Assessing Programmes

“Programme development needs a time cycle of about five years, in order to know how compatible its outputs are with the aspirations of the labour market and future trends.”

Haifa Jamal Al-Lail President of Effat University

Haifa Reda Jamal Al-Lail, president of Effat University, in Jeddah, said the criteria the Council of Universities’ Affairs will use to judge whether a programme will continue, be updated, or be excluded will be linked to measuring its quality and its matching of labour market needs.

These criteria will include international and local accreditations, the employability of graduates in general and their employability in their field of study, and the percentage of job applicants from specific disciplines, she wrote in an e-mail to Al-Fanar Media.

Al-Lail said that “programme development needs a time cycle of about five years, in order to know how compatible their outputs are with the aspirations of the labour market and future trends.”

She explained that Effat University, for example, was able to take decisions to gradually reduce admissions to certain programmes, which allowed it to raise admission rates to other programmes more in tune with labour market needs.

More Graduates in Some Fields

Omaimah Qadhi, a professor in the College of Nursing at King Saud University, in Riyadh, said the council’s decisions aimed to fill a deficit in Saudi health colleges’ graduates. To meet the high demand for health services, the kingdom has had to contract foreign workers to fill the gap, she said in a phone call with Al-Fanar Media.

“There is always an increased need for health colleges’ graduates,” Qadhi said. This is because of “the great expansion of medical specialties, establishing stand-alone nursing colleges with a diversity of specialisations, and the need for nursing degrees by nursing practitioners and those in charge of them.”

She warned, however, that the council’s decision could lead to a large number of “unqualified” students seeking to enrol in health colleges. She called for strict conditions for those wishing to enter health colleges, including tests to assess applicants’ personal qualities and their willingness to adapt to these jobs.

“Candidates must have special soft skills that make them excited to study and work later,” Qadhi said. “They must also be able to cope with all aspects of progress in these majors.”

The Future of Theoretical Colleges

“The future of theoretical faculties at Saudi universities depends on the development of curricula, as well as reducing admission while reconsidering the suitability of these disciplines to the kingdom’s new reality.”

Muna Al-Ghuraibi A professor of social studies at King Saud University

Ahmed Khaled, an education student at the University of Jeddah, worried that the council’s decisions would “further marginalise theoretical colleges in the labour market, and make new students reluctant to join these majors.”

He said devaluing theoretical colleges would lower the salaries of their graduates and increase their working hours.

Khaled believes that it would be better to launch a development plan for theoretical colleges without taking decisions that negatively affect their graduates. He noted that some of his colleagues were considering quitting their studies to join an applied college.

Muna Al-Ghuraibi, a professor of social studies at King Saud University, said that the decisions would “refine” the quality of students enrolled in theoretical colleges. Enrollments at these colleges have skyrocketed in recent years, including the admission of some with low grades, she said, because many students view of them as “easy” colleges that grant bachelor’s degrees with minimal efforts.

In a phone call, Al-Ghuraibi told Al-Fanar Media that the council’s decisions would reduce the teaching burden on professors at theoretical colleges and give them the opportunity to participate in developing curricula to enhance students’ practical training.

“The main advantage of the council’s last step is that the implementation of the decisions will be on a trial basis, for a period of five years,” she said. “This flexibility makes us less concerned about the status of theoretical colleges.”

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She added: “The future of theoretical faculties at Saudi universities depends on the development of curricula, as well as reducing numbers while reconsidering the suitability of these disciplines to the kingdom’s new reality, and developing new teaching methods to secure the chances of graduates to get jobs.”

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