In 2012 the United States saw record numbers of Saudi Arabian students enrolled in academic institutions around the country. The vast majority of these students are able to come to the United States as recipients of scholarships from the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP). This program was developed in 2005 after U.S. President George W. Bush and then Crown Prince Abdullah met to discuss ways of easing tensions and encouraging cultural understanding between the two nations after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The program, into which the Saudi government has made significant financial investments, has grown exponentially each year since 2005; the number of Saudi students enrolled in U.S. universities (including enrollment in intensive English programs) grew from 11,116 in 2006 to 71,026 in 2011, according to a report from USA Today citing figures from the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the United States, which administers the program. KASP has also grown to include funding for Saudi students to attend universities in 21 other countries.
In addition to helping improve the relationship between the Saudi and U.S. citizens, the program offers several other benefits:
- Saudi students get to take advantage of top-notch graduate and undergraduate programs around the world at no cost to them. The scholarship pays full tuition, living expenses, and a once-a-year flight back to Saudi Arabia.
- Saudi Arabia benefits economically from having a highly trained, competitive workforce when these students return. In an effort to encourage young people to develop the specialized skill sets that will keep Saudi Arabia competitive in the modern globalized economy, the program only funds certain courses of study (primarily STEM fields and language studies). (This growing group of highly educated young Saudis is important to the country's future economic stability, as 79 percent of the Saudi population is under the age of 40.)
- U.S. universities, most of which are in desperate need of cash, leverage the influx of full-paying international students, as well as increased cultural diversity on their campuses.
The King Abdullah Scholarship Program is set to continue its expansion. The Saudi Arabian government has allotted 22 billion riyals (approximately 5.8 billion USD) to be spent on education in its 2013 budget, according to a report by Bloomberg News. Saudi Arabia hopes to send 120,000 students abroad in 2013.
For more information on the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, visit www.sacm.org.