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10th June 2024

Letter from Saudi Arabia: Dr. Najah Alotaimi

Dr. Najah Alotaimi

 

When I speak at conferences, I often receive follow-up emails from Saudi students asking me how they can participate in similar events and establish a presence in institutions across the United Kingdom. My response is simple: cultivate a passion for networking.

International students, especially those from Saudi Arabia, often overlook the importance of forming connections while they are studying abroad. This may be due to navigating an unfamiliar environment, but it is an essential component of making the most of their educational journey and maximising the impact they can have within their communities when they return home.

Currently, there are approximately 14,070 Saudi students enrolled in the UK higher education. Among them, 11,850 are studying in UK Universities, 2,000 are pursuing distance or online learning. The majority, about 12,025, are pursuing undergraduate degrees. Universities such as Imperial College London, King’s College London and the University of Manchester boast some of the highest numbers of Saudi students.

These students are part of a longstanding cultural diplomacy that’s linked to century-long relations between the two countries. They benefit from a prestigious educational programme which provides financial support for their education and living expenses. This enables them to pursue bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in the UK. This initiative aims to create a pool of highly skilled individuals who can contribute to their country’s development upon their return home.

Saudi Arabia is undergoing a period of transformative economic and social change. This has been partially fuelled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, which was launched almost a decade ago. This strategic plan aims to diversify the economy and reduce the country’s dependence on oil. Achieving these goals requires international expertise, innovative ideas and knowledge transfer.  This is a major reason why Saudi students in the UK should see their time abroad as being about more than simply earning a degree. Saudi students should instead embrace the opportunity to expand their horizons by engaging with influential figures and thought leaders whilst they are studying in the UK, ultimately bringing these insights back to their homeland.

The UK can be a powerful ally when it comes to bringing this Saudi vision to life. As a global hub for accomplished professionals, influential individuals and creatives, the UK gives students the chance to connect with various experts in their fields. This exposure can open doors to internships, job prospects and academic advancement. When students have the chance to gain insights from industry leaders, this can expand their perspectives substantially.

The UK is also a vibrant environment with endless events and initiatives that students can engage in to enrich both their creativity and learning. When students participate in these activities, they can gather valuable insights and ideas outside of academia, which can later translate into entrepreneurial ventures and projects back home. This knowledge transfer can have an incredibly positive impact on communities, create employment opportunities and support the growth of the private sector.

Investing in networking can lead to fruitful collaborations that benefit Saudi society and business. Building connections with UK start-ups, entrepreneurs and local businesses can pave the way for long-term global engagement and intercultural understanding.

Networking begins with a good story that makes one stand out. Saudi students have unique stories to share, especially around how their country transformed from resource scarcity to a leading economic player. My own experience studying in the UK as a Saudi woman has profoundly impacted my life, and I often share this story with others.

While earning a recognised degree from the UK is invaluable, the true potential of studying abroad lies in establishing a network of peers, experts and professionals who can offer guidance, mentorship and collaboration opportunities. These connections not only close geographical gaps but also encourage a diverse exchange of ideas and perspectives.

For Saudi students, gathering the will and effort to engage in networking is crucial. Joining clubs, associations and groups related to their field can accelerate both professional and personal growth. Actively participating in events, workshops and seminars sustains and nurtures these connections. In today’s digital world, an online presence is essential when it comes to expressing one’s personality, interests and aspirations to their network. Making the most of social media platforms can facilitate networking and global connections.

By immersing themselves in the rich opportunities available to them, Saudi students in the UK can build the right foundations to become invaluable assets to their communities and make a significant contribution to the ongoing transformation of their country.

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