Okaz newspaper recently published a story shedding light on some major issues concerned with the implementation of Saudization in the private education sector.  The report was titled “Canceling visas of expatriate teachers will bring down the enrollment rate in private schools.” According to the report, the Ministry of Labor (MoL) has cancelled the visas of more than 200 private schools in Jeddah and Makkah. The school owners were informed of the cancellation when they approached MoL offices to have visas issued for their schools. They have been reportedly denied visas due to their failure to achieve the required percentage of Saudization. On the other hand, some of these school owners said that they had obtained certificates from the Ministry of Education (MoE) with regard to their implementation of Saudization, and thus they have every right to recruit foreign teachers for some subjects for which they can rely only on recruitment.The report also quoted Dr. Zuhair Ghunaim, a member of the Private Schools Committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who said that the decision of the MoL would result in decreasing the number of new students gaining admission to private schools by around 30 percent, mainly because of the absence of teachers in some specializations. This would eventually inflict a burden on government schools as there is no other option for parents than to approach government schools for gaining admission for their wards. Dr. Ghunaim also pointed out that about 60-70 percent of private schools would be forced to cut the number of their classes significantly due to their inability to hire new teachers for some subjects in which there are no Saudi teachers available. Dr. Ghunaim demanded that MoE officials address this problem in light of the fact that private schools can rely on expatriates for teaching most subjects except Arabic language and Islamic studies. Nasser Al-Yahyawi, director of a private school in Makkah, said that canceling visas for teachers would adversely affect the functioning of private schools from the beginning of the new academic year. He also drew attention to another problem which is that MoL offices will approve new visas for school teachers only after the departure of those teachers who do not want to renew their work contracts. He specifically noted the lack of coordination between the two ministries on this matter. Al-Yahyawi said that the efficacy of the plan to increase the percentage of Saudization, as sought by MoL, would only be clear at some point after the beginning of the academic year because information about contracts with new Saudi teachers would not be available in the computer system until that time. Al-Yahyawi said that the MoL should approve the issuance of visas as long as the MoE has given the go-ahead after registering the percentage of Saudization achieved in private schools. Apart from this, there are other difficulties, such as the decision of the MoL not to allow dependents of expatriates except their spouses to work, and even that is permitted only with the condition of transferring the sponsorship of spouses to the new employer. This constitutes another problem. Some housewives prefer to remain under the sponsorship of their husbands as they know that changing their sponsorship will deprive them of several benefits as a dependent. What is the wisdom behind the MoL’s insistence on transferring the sponsorship of spouses to the new employer? In most cases, the employer will be the school management. These private schools sign contracts with those who want to work for a fixed period amounting to a number of months during the academic year. These schools are not in a position to provide the same benefits that are offered by companies, banks and other employers. Furthermore, why does the MoL not permit the sons and daughters of expatriates to work ? If they are qualified and allowed to work, wouldn’t this help to reduce recruitment fees and other expenses? This, after all, is supposed to be the objective of the MoL and the state as well. Hiring the dependents of expatriates would save private schools the cost of recruiting teachers from abroad whose salaries are usually much higher than those of teachers recruited locally. Whenever these schools increase the salaries of teachers, they are forced to hike tuition fees increasing the burden on parents.Linking education with Saudization may be neither fair nor just at least in the case of private education. This is especially true in the case of international schools where most of the subjects are taught in languages in which most Saudis are not proficient. Linking education with Saudization may have an adverse impact on the quality of education imparted and may create difficulties that will reflect on the achievements of children and their future. Similarly, some of the solutions put forward by the ministry may have an adverse impact on the nation and its people, in addition to harming the nation’s economy and sustainable growth. Education should be separated from Saudization, which is a complex problem with a variety of dimensions. As the MoL is not in a position to address the problem of Saudization single-handedly, a national road map with the involvement of most of the concerned agencies and departments is the need of the hour.
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs