At the time the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932, education was not accessible to everyone and limited to individualized instruction at religious schools in mosques in urban areas. These schools taught Islamic law and basic literacy skills. A little over 60 years later, Saudi Arabia now has a nationwide educational system that provides free training from preschool through university to all citizens. While the study of Islam remains at its core, the modern Saudi educational system provides quality instruction in diverse fields of modern and traditional arts and sciences. This diversity helps meet the Kingdom’s growing need for highly-educated citizens to build on its rapid progress of the past few decades.
Formal primary education began in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. By 1945, King Abdul Aziz Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud, the country’s founder, had initiated an extensive program to establish schools in the Kingdom. Six years later, in 1951, the country had 226 schools with 29,887 students. In 1954, the Ministry of Education was established, headed by then Prince Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz as the first Minister of Education. The first university, now known as King Saud University, was founded in Riyadh in 1957.
Today, Saudi Arabia’s nationwide educational system comprises seven universities, 83 colleges and more than 18,000 schools. Open to every citizen, the system provides students with free education. books and health services. A measure of the government’s substantial commitment to this sector is the allocation of approximately 19 percent of expenditure, or 37.5 billion U.S. dollars, to education and human resources under the Fifth Development Plan (1990-94).
Saudi Arabia prizes education because of its critical importance in developing the human potential of the country. As the leader of his nation, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz has often stressed how the youth of Saudi Arabia is the country’s most valuable resource. Education is a central aspect of family and community life. Parents are deeply involved in their children’s education, and the close links between home and school serve to reinforce the structure of the community and the nation.
Entering a new era of rapid development of the country’s infrastructure and economy in the early 1970s, Saudi Arabia devoted special attention to fostering higher education.
In 1993, King Fahd, who has been closely associated with the development of education in Saudi Arabia for four decades, introduced new provisions for the Higher Education Council and the University System. The objective is to further improve the efficiency of Saudi universities by offering programs in new fields, encouraging greater cooperation among Saudi institutes of higher learning and increasing involvement of the teaching staff in the operations of faculties.
Today, there are more than 142,000 students at Saudi universities and colleges, a dramatic improvement over the 7,000 students enrolled in 1970. Of that number, more than 60,000 are female students studying at five of the universities — King Saud, King Abdul Aziz, King Faisal, Imam Muhammad Bin Saud and Umm Al-Qura — that accept both male and female students, and also at 14 colleges set up exclusively for women. A total of more than 10,200 teachers is employed at Saudi universities and colleges.
The oldest university in the country is King Saud University in Riyadh. When it first opened in 1957, there were only nine instructors teaching 21 students. Since then, more than 25,000 students have graduated. The university accommodates 24,400 students in its faculties of art, science, commerce, engineering, agriculture, medicine, dentistry, nursing, education, computer science and information science. It offers doctorate programs in many fields and is noted for its schools of engineering and medicine.
The Islamic University at Madinah, founded in 1961, serves as a center for Islamic studies and for teaching Islamic culture. It also offers programs in Arabic literature and the arts and the sciences. More than 8.000 students have graduated from the university, including non-Saudis from 105 countries. Imam Muhammad Bin Saud University in Riyadh and Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah offer programs in the various arts and sciences, including engineering, architecture, science and technology and education. Both are highly regarded for their Islamic law, history and Arabic literature. Imam Muhammad Bin Saud University has branches in the United States, Japan, Indonesia, Mauritania, Djibouti and United Arab Emirates offering programs in Islamic and Arabic studies.
The King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, founded in Dhahran in 1963, enrolls approximately five thousand students. The university, considered to be on a par with the best in the world, offers programs in the modern sciences, including engineering, mathematical sciences, finance, economics and management and marketing. Its research institute conducts studies in a variety of fields, notably in petroleum technology and environmental issues.
King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah was founded in 1967 by a group of Saudi businessmen who understood the importance of education in national development. The university developed so rapidly that in 1971, the founders petitioned the government to assume responsibility for its operation. Since then it has expanded considerably and now has more than 23,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs in various fields of study.
King Faisal University, with two campuses in Dammam and Hofuf, offers a range of programs, including medicine, administrative science and architecture and urban planning. Founded in 1975, the university is famous for its outstanding agricultural and veterinary sciences programs. It has educational and experimental farms in Hofuf and conducts advanced research in agriculture and animal husbandry.
To complement their studies in universities in the Kingdom, Saudi students have the opportunity to pursue graduate and postgraduate degrees inspecialized fields abroad. Supported by government scholarships, thousands of Saudi students are enrolled in universities outside the Kingdom, mainly in the United States.
One of the institutions that has been instrumental in the development of higher education in Saudi Arabia is (KACST) the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology. Dedicated to research in various fields, including education, it helps formulate the national policy for the development of science and technology, conducts applied scientific research and assists the private sector in research and development.
KACST is an independent scientific organization administratively belonging to the Prime Minister. Its headquarter is located in Riyadh; and its Branches may be established in the other cities of the Kingdom. KACST was established according to the Royal Decree No. R/60 dated 18/12/1397 A.H. under the name of Saudi Arabian National Center For Science and Technology (SANCST).
On 20/12/1405 A.H. the Royal Decree No. R/61 was issued changing the name of the Saudi Arabian National Center for Science and Technology (SANCST) into the National Center For Science and Technology (NCST). In addition, a supreme committee authorized to control and handle its affairs was formed as follows:
- Prime Minister Chairman
- Deputy Prime Minister Vice-Chairman
- Minister of Defence & Aviation and Inspector General Member
- Minister of Higher Education Member
- Minister of Agriculture and Water Member
- Minister of Industry & Electricity Member
- Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Member
- Minister of Planning Member
- Minister of Finance and National Economy Member
- Head of Public Investigation Member
- President of KACST Member
- In addition to three other members to be appointed by the Prime Minister.
In view of the diversity of the Center’s activities, importance of its programs and projects, and what is expected therefrom in the future -by God willing- in the field of Science and Technology, the Royal Decree No. R/8 dated 19/4/1406 A.H. was issued changing SANCST name into the current name “King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).