Saif M. Al-Harithy is a 23-year-old Saudi who works as a manager at a real estate firm. The company has a substantial Saudi work force, mostly young graduates from Western universities. Al-Harithy is the only one who went to India for studies. "I got my masters in business administration at a well known college in Hyderabad," he said.
Although it is not uncommon to find elderly Saudis who studied in India during the 1950s, 1960s or the 1970s, finding young Saudis earning Indian degrees is a bit difficult.
"I know what you mean," says Al-Harithy, who graduated in 2009, "I went to India for many reasons. One, my father has an attachment to that country because he was educated there in the 1960s, so he knew the education system well. Two, we come from an ordinary middle class family. There was, therefore, no way for me to go to the West. Three, India had become the acknowledged centre of learning ."
Al-Harithy is one of a growing number of young Saudis looking to the East for higher education instead of the West.
This has been more apparent since the visit of Saudi King Abdullah to India six years ago. That is when the Kingdom decided to send Saudi students to India on government scholarships. Hitherto, Saudi students were only going privately for higher studies to India.
Indian Consul General Faiz Ahmed Kidwai recently spoke about the Ministry of External Affairs' scheme that enables Saudi students to enroll as undergraduates in India.
"The scheme is not new, it has been in existence for more than five years but we are trying to publicise it in order for many Saudi students to benefit for the coming year," he was quoted as saying in local media. "One of the main objectives of the scheme is to boost Saudi-India relations."
According to reports, around 1,000 Saudi students are currently pursuing higher studies in India in cities like New Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore. Mumbai and Coimbatore.
India has become a favorite destination for those Saudi students who want to pursue courses in management, information technology, engineering and biotechnology. A large number of Saudi students also go to India to enhance English language skills. The government scholarship program is accelerating that trend.
Many leading universities and colleges in India have now been empanelled by the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education and despite fierce domestic competition for seats in Indian colleges and universities, officials say there is still room for students from overseas.
Saudis are attracted to the Indian education system because of its high quality, lower costs and better preparation for jobs after graduation. "Low education costs in India are a major attraction for foreign students," he said and pointed out that a prestigious university in India would offer an MBA degree for as little as $3,750 as opposed to $12,000-$15,000 charged by universities in Europe, Australia or the States.