The Saudi Arabian higher education system is similar to the UK, where students are required to do a Bachelors degree before proceeding on to postgraduate study. For some PhD programmes a Masters is required.
There are only thirty-six universities in Saudi Arabia (alongside well a range of higher education colleges). Twenty-six of them are funded by the Saudi Arabian Government, the others are private institutions.
Several of them are world ranked institutions and carry out research in major disciplines.
Government and private institutions
There are three different types of institution in Saudi Arabia that offer PhD programmes. These are either private or state institutions:
- State universities - The 26 registered state universities are funded and governed by the Ministry of Education; however, they have administrative and academic autonomy.
- Private universities - The 10 registered private universities do not receive any direct public funding and offer several PhD programmes.
- Private colleges - Similar to the private universities, these 42 higher education colleges are authorised to provide PhD programmes.
Institutions for female applicants
Education for women (both local and foreign) in Saudi Arabia is governed by the principles of Islam.
This means men and women are not taught in the same classes. Women viewing lectures delivered by a male professor do so through a monitor.
Because of these restrictions, only 36 out of the 78 higher education universities and colleges enrol women. Three of these are women only, including the largest women’s only university in the world, the Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University.
It is best to check directly with your university as to whether it accepts female applicants and how its programmes are organised.
The future of Saudi Arabian higher education
In November 2000 the Saudi Arabian Government devised the Higher Education Fund, used to invest in financing programmes, research centres and scholarships at its universities.
Since this King Abdulaziz Al Saud has released the Vision 2030 plan: by the year 2030 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hopes to have at least five universities in the world ranked top 200.
As you’d expect, high quality research is key to these ambitions, with the potential for excellent PhD opportunities.
Saudi Arabian university rankings
Saudi Arabia is on the way to achieving its ranking ambitions; three of the country’s thirty-six universities can be found in all three major university league tables.