Saudi Arabia higher education sector needs 800K seat expansion by 2030

Saudi Arabia has the largest – and most in demand – higher education sector in the Gulf and will need an extra 800,000 seats by 2030 to cope with surging requirements, a new report has found.

Many of those seats will be for university places in specialized courses covering technology, artificial intelligence and sustainable energy amidst a future shift towards a cleaner – and more technologically-driven future.

Mansoor Ahmed, director for healthcare, education and PPP at Colliers International, which has unveiled its latest report on the educational landscape in the Kingdom, said Saudi Arabia’s higher education sector stands as the largest individual education market across the Arabian Gulf region with a staggering two million students enrolled in 2022.

Notably, 95 percent of these students are enrolled in public and semi-public institutions, underlining a significant reliance on the public sector for higher education, he said.

This reliance is attributed to the perception of higher quality and job prospects offered by public institutions.

Colliers’ market report: ‘Higher Education in KSA: Changing Demand in line with Vision 2030’ delves into the current and projected size of the higher education market in KSA by 2030, shedding light on the shifting dynamics of higher education aligned with Vision 2030, and emphasizing opportunities for investors, developers and operators.

As part of Vision 2030’s economic transformation, the Saudi government aims to increase private sector involvement in higher education.

Ahmed said: “As economic transformation and diversification programs under Vision 2030 and the Saudization drive are expected to spur demand for higher education, Colliers foresees a shift in demand from traditional offerings towards Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotic sciences, nuclear energy, sustainable energy, renewable energy, solar energy, etc.”

“The demand is expected to shift towards evidence-based Research & Development (R&D) studies, taking into consideration the economic transformation agenda under Vision 2030 and the changing market dynamics, rather than traditional fields of study, to overcome the mismatch between the degrees, skills and requirements of the employment market.”

Expecting a future demand surge in health, hospitality and SME sectors, Colliers emphasizes the requirement to cultivate local talent, especially in technical roles.

With the Saudization drive gaining momentum, the report advocates for a concerted effort to meet the escalating demand for skilled professionals, particularly in healthcare and hospitality.

The report projects the total demand for higher education to reach 2.75 million seats by 2030, stressing the need for additional seats – an increase of more than 800,000 compared to 2022.

Colliers suggests that the private sector, akin to the UAE and Egypt, should consider establishing branch campuses of international universities within the Kingdom, targeting institutions hosting a significant number of Saudi students.


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