Saudi universities halt courses for non-regular students

Saudi universities have stopped admitting non-regular or part-time students wishing to obtain a bachelor degree, at an order from the Arab country’s education authorities.

Last week, Saudi Education Minister Ahmed Al-Issa, who is also in charge of academic institutions, ordered the country’s universities to stop courses for such students as well as learning by distance, starting from the new academic year, saying the move is aimed at upgrading education quality.

Over the years Saudi universities have graduated thousands of non-regular students, who are usually people holding jobs who cannot attend full-time lectures. They used to account for about 20% of an annual total of around 130,000 university graduates in Saudi Arabia, according to official figures.

However, there have been complaints about the non-regular graduates’ education standards, with critics saying they are poorly qualified for the job market. Some ministries in the oil-rich country have recently stopped employing them.

“The aim of halting this system is to achieve quality at Saudi universities,” Al-Issa said in recent press remarks. “It is important to raise the level of education provided through regular courses. Therefore, it is necessary for academic institutions and their teaching staff to focus on courses for regular students,” the minister added.

He said that the universities are still allowed to provide fee-paying courses for postgraduate students, but the fees will have to be paid by the students or their employers, without state subsidy.

“These courses should be within the minimum limit and related to specialisations required by the labour market,” the minister added.

In recent years Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, has felt the fallout from a drop in global prices of the crude oil, prompting authorities there to adopt austerity measures and cancel decades-old welfare subsidies. In 2016, the country unveiled an ambitious plan to diversify its revenues.

Some Saudi nationals have expressed anger at the decision to dismantle the part-time courses.

“There are many among us who cannot complete their higher education on a regular basis,” Etadal Al-Assiri, a Saudi woman working as a school manager, said. “This type of education helps these people to learn and advance in their life,” she told Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat.

The hashtag #Discontinuation of non-regular courses has been trending in Arabic on Saudi Twitter. “It’s disgraceful to hamper the citizen dreaming of university education,” one man, named Mohamed Oqeil, tweeted.

“How many dreams have been dashed by the education minister’s decision!” posted a woman named Fawz Al-Shehiri.

Some experts have been in favour of cancelling the system known as parallel education. One is Saudi education researcher Abdel Whabab bin Abdullah. “This is a decision that will have a positive impact on quality of education outputs, even if it was overdue,” Bin Abdullah wrote in the Saudi newspaper Al Eqtisadiah.

“Programmes of the parallel education and learning by distance have been among the main reasons for increasing unemployment among university graduates.”

Unemployment reached 12.9% in Saudi Arabia in the first quarter of 2018, according to official figures. University graduates are estimated to account for about 52% of the overall jobless Saudis.