Addressing the absence of an education policy

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Education in the Kingdom continues to suffer because we do not have a strategy for providing a sufficient technical workforce to achieve industrial development for the country. Despite the fact that the unemployment rate has hit 12.8 percent (close to one million Saudis) according to the General Statistics Authority, we have around eight million expatriate workers in the country. The reason for the high number of expatriate workers can be attributed to the fact that the majority of the members of the public believe that technical and vocational education does not befit Saudis. That is why most Saudis choose higher education instead. There are indications that 63 percent of college students study majors, such as education, humanities, sociology and Islamic studies. There is no big demand for these majors in the labor market, especially the private sector.

The unemployment rate is high among college graduates, especially BA holders, who constitute the largest number of the jobless. High school graduates constitute 32 percent of the jobless while intermediate education graduates account for 6.2 percent and elementary education graduates for 2.7 percent, according to the General Statistics Authority. This means that the higher the educational degree a Saudi has, the greater his chances of ending up unemployed. We have not seen this happening in any other country in the world. I believe that this is because we do not have an education policy that ensures that all college graduates study majors that are in demand in the labor market.

Having over eight million expatriate workers in the country (which constitute 30 percent of the population), while having an unemployment rate of 12.8 percent among Saudis is unacceptable. This will result in harmful social, security, health and ethical consequences. In fact, it will drain and deplete our economy. In 2015, expatriate workers transferred SR156 billion to their homelands. We could have saved some of that transferred money if we had reduced the number of expatriate workers in the country and replaced them with Saudis.

It is important that the Ministry of Education should have a technical training policy that trains Saudis to fill technical jobs in the industrial sector. The ministry should decide how many Saudi students should enroll in technical and vocational programs and how many should enroll in other theoretical programs, based on the demands and needs of the labor market. By doing so, we could transform the Saudi economy from an expatriate-reliant to a Saudi-reliant economy. Currently, Saudis represent 13.4 percent of the workforce in the private sector, according to the Ministry of Labor.

Apparently, there is no coordination between the ministries of Labor and Higher Education or else how can we explain the increasing unemployment rate. This lack of coordination can be explained in the following example. A man goes to a car factory and asks for a car with certain specifications. These specifications are dispatched to all departments in the factory without any type of coordination. The finance department sets a budget for a motorcycle, not for a car, while the engineering department sets a timetable that is not sufficient to make the car. At the end of the day, the customer will not get the car he wants because there is no coordination among the departments.

It is important that we reduce college admission and focus more on technical and vocational training colleges if we want to achieve industrial development for our country. Singapore’s college enrollment is less than 30 percent because the country does not want to have students who are overqualified for the job market. The Singaporean national development minister said that Singapore does not want all of its people to be college graduates, rather, it wants a country where college graduates do not suffer from a high rate of unemployment.

Technical and vocational training will help us achieve the sought-after industrial development. We do not need this huge number of college graduates. Lim Chuan Poh, the chairman of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research, said: “The worst thing any country can create for itself is a lot of unemployed graduates protesting – because they make the most noise and create the most trouble.” Without a clear-cut education policy, our future will not be clear.


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