63 pct. of Saudi students in majors ‘unsuitable’ for market

Dr. John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Saudi-Fransi Bank, believes that the percentage of high school students admitted into college should be reduced

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A majority of young Saudi men and women in colleges study subjects which are not in demand in the labor market, an economist was quoted as saying in a section of the Arabic press here on Saturday.

It is important that high school graduates focus on technical and vocational training, especially in light of the fact that 90 percent of those who signed up for Hafiz Unemployment Aid Program hold degrees with specializations unsuitable for the market, Dr. John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Saudi-Fransi Bank, told Al-Hayat newspaper.

Some 46 percent or 290,000 of the kingdom’s unemployed youth hold bachelor’s degrees. The percentage of unemployed women with bachelor’s degrees stands at 88 percent. Hafiz program has 320,000 applicants in its database.

Sfakianakis believes that the percentage of high school students admitted into college should be reduced. Official reports indicate that 78 percent of high school graduates have joined universities this year, the highest around the world, compared with 56 percent in member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

What is really alarming is the fact that currently 63 percent of Saudi students are enrolled in majors unsuitable for the needs of the labor market such as education, humanities, social sciences, and Islamic studies. The private sector is not interested in such specializations, said Dr. Sfakianakis.

“High school graduates should be encouraged to enroll in technical and vocational colleges,” noted Sfakianakis.

Only 9 percent of high school graduates have taken up technical and vocational programs in the kingdom compared with 41 percent in OECD member countries and 37 percent in Turkey. The global average of students who join technical and vocational colleges is 40 percent.

Sfakianakis stressed the importance of incorporating technical and vocational material in public school curricula to provide students with the necessary skills the labor market is in dire need of.

He noted that the kingdom spends eight times on higher education than it does on technical and vocational training while OECD member countries spend 57 percent on the latter, Austria 71 percent, France 83 percent, and Germany 71 percent.

“Decision-makers should work to strike a balance sooner or later between the graduates of universities and technology colleges,” he urged.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014.

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