The number of Saudi students enrolled in intensive English programs in the U.S. fell by 45.2 percent in 2016 compared to the year before, according to new data from the Institute of International Education released Tuesday during the annual NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference.
Saudi Arabia has suspended its large government scholarship program. Saudi students students in the U.S. typically start in intensive English programs before moving into degree programs.
The Saudi embassy in Cairo yesterday denied reports issued by the Egyptian media that the kingdom had agreed to send 2,000 Saudi sponsored students to study at Egyptian universities, the Anadolu Agency reported.
In a statement, the Saudi embassy denied that a phone call took place between Egyptian official in the Ministry of Higher Education, Hussam Al-Mallahi, and the embassy in which the former announced the agreement to send 2,000 Saudi sponsored students to Egypt.
In the statement, the embassy noted that Al-Mallahi claimed that Saudi did not halt the scholarship programme for 12 years.
A report about this claimed phone call was initially published by the government-owned newspaper Al-Ahram. The report claimed that an agreement reached with the Saudi Ambassador to Cairo Ahmed Al-Qattan, noting that 700 students have already arrived in Egypt.
In October last year, a lawyer in the Saudi embassy in Cairo said that Saudi Arabia halted the scholarship programme in Egypt.
“With the increasing numbers of forged master’s and PhD degrees from Egypt, the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education decided to stop postgraduate admissions to Egypt for an indefinite period of time,” the lawyer at the Saudi embassy in Egypt said.
The number of students from Saudi Arabia in the U.S. on student visas fell by 19.9 percent from November 2015 to November 2016, according to new data on student visas from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Many U.S. universities and intensive English programs have reported declines in admissions and enrollments of new students from Saudi Arabia -- a key country in many institutions' international recruiting efforts -- that they have attributed to changes in that country’s government scholarship program.
The data on student visas, released quarterly by the U.S. government, are distinct from annual survey data on international enrollments compiled by the Institute of International Education.
Despite the drop in the number of Saudi students, the Homeland Security data show that the overall number of international students on F or M visas -- for academic or vocational study -- increased 2.9 percent from November 2015 to November 2016, to an all-time high of 1.23 million. An additional 198,217 foreign nationals are in the U.S. on J-1 exchange visas, a decrease of 1.8 percent from last fall. A breakdown of some country-by-country trends for Asia, the top region of origin for international students in the U.S., are shown above.
Fake diplomas have become widespread in the Arab Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, during the past few years.
People on social media across the GCC have been attempting to bring the issue back to the debate in recent days, with one Kuwaiti scholar creating an Arabic hashtag on Twitter roughly translated in English as ‘Cartoonish’ to illustrate how rampant is the spread of fake diplomas.
In Saudi Arabia, Dr. Muwafaq al-Ruwaili has been one of the harshest critics on this issue and has said that he had evidence proving that one university was handing out 6,000 doctorate degrees and nearly 3,800 degrees at the bachelors and masters levels.
Between 2009 and 2013, the Saudi ministry of higher education shut down more than 310 offices that were promoting the sale of fake diplomas and degrees in many cities across the kingdom.
A number of Saudi men launched a Twitter campaign in 2014 calling for the credentials of expatriate doctors recently hired to work in the Kingdom to be double checked.
The campaign came after an Egyptian doctor who used fake diplomas to work as an anesthesia consultant was caught after 10 years of service at the Maternity and Children’s Hospital of Dammam. It sheds light on the medical errors made by fake doctors.
The Saudi Engineering Society recently announced that through their own investigation, at least 2,000 engineers were found to be employed based on fake diplomas and degrees and said that unqualified employees were the reason for the poor reputation of the engineering industry in Saudi Arabia.
Call for stricter law
Many in Saudi Arabia have said that outdated laws and regulations have allowed for such rampant spread of fake degrees and called for stricter legislation within both the academic and labor fields to attest degrees in the future.
“How is it fair that a Saudi citizen spends years of hard work getting the grades in high school and university for a degree that he can then take to find jobs and then comes another who can simply buy the same degree without any efforts whatsoever,” Mohammed Mansour, a university graduate, told Al Arabiya’s Special Mission program.
But Saudi Arabia is not the only country facing this problem. Kuwait has faced the same, with some educational attestation centers saying it is impossible to eradicate the phenomenon altogether.
“Many are taking advantage of people looking for a quick fix in today’s highly competitive job markets. Even though Kuwait has created several verification centers and passed legislation to tackle the problem, the trend will continue as fraudulent businesses will look at creative ways of keeping their fake diploma businesses alive,” said Nouria A. Al-Awadi, director of Kuwait’s National Bureau for Academic Accreditation and Education Quality Assurance.