(MENAFN - Arab News) I visited the 3rd International Exhibition and Conference on Higher Education in Riyadh last week. The event was well-organized and visitors were able to move around with complete ease.
All the facilities, such as, car parkings, cafes, restaurants, health services and security were of good standards. The preparations for an event of such magnitude were on track and perfectly executed. The moment a visitor entered the exhibition hall he felt he was in a bazaar. Representatives of universities from Western as well as eastern countries were present to promote their academic institutes. The representatives of each university were more than happy to answer the questions of the prospective students who were interested in joining their universities. Even with the absence of queues that they were used to in their countries, they tended to the visitors' queries with a big smile.
The sight of Saudi students, boys and girls, moving from one university booth to another made one feel proud of our young generation that is eager to develop and equip itself with knowledge and is becoming more career-oriented by seeking out every piece of information about the education they want to pursue. Students attired in Western or national attires were keen to learn about the requirements of the institutes and the services provided.
The girls too were keen on learning about each university and the city it is located in. Both boys and girls wanted a clearer picture of the new environment they will be living in.
Saudi universities had their own corners in which they exhibited their achievements and developments in the academic field. It was an opportunity to exchange experiences and pave the way for any future partnership with other universities. Interestingly, booths of both the Western universities as well as Saudi universities attracted much attention, but the former got the lion's share of visitors.
Most of the students were aspiring to study abroad and pursue their degree in a Western university rather than a local one. It could be because they are looking for quality education. Although, accepting foreign students can increase the revenue of some universities, they are firm in their admissions requirements. If one is to look at the frequently asked questions, he or she would notice that the language requirement keeps popping up a lot. Students must show a high proficiency score in the language they will be studying in, e.g. English, German, French, etc. So most of the students will find themselves enrolling in language centers thus required to obtain a high score in either TOFEL or IELTS in order to start their program of study, which may take a long time for some of them. But can't they develop their language here in the Kingdom before going abroad?
It is interesting that Saudi students are now aware of their needs and the careers they want to pursue. In fact, it shows a maturity in their intellectual and professional mentality. However, they may not find the desired institute in the Kingdom that caters to their needs or gives them the level of education they aspire to.
Although it could be viewed as a double standard to ask this question here, but is it necessary to send a large number of Saudi students abroad? Why can't the Western universities open branches here and provide the students with the academic training they seek to obtain? It may have an effect on the level of education as well as the philosophy of academia in the country. In fact, it would enrich the academic life of many universities in the Kingdom. However, until then there is no harm in letting students have a change of scenery as long as society benefits from it.
Mohammed Sumili is a lecturer at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Jazan University. He was awarded an MA in English Studies (Creative Writing) in 2005 from University of Exeter.