Kuwait is one of the richest countries in the Arabian Gulf region, enclosed by Saudi Arabia in the south and Iraq in the north. Kuwait sits on an estimated 9% of the world oil reserves, a high percentage of which are easily extracted.
Kuwait is an important trading partner of the UK, with visible exports reaching £457 million in 2007. Export of UK Services, difficult to define, is in the region of £1Bn and includes energy sector consultancy, financial services, banking, insurance, and aviation.
Kuwaitis make up less than half of the country’s population and some estimates place the number of expatriates in the workforce at 80%. At the same time a burgeoning young population is struggling to find employment. The Government is looking at wider economic reform, including moving some of the 95% of Kuwaitis who work in the state sector to the private sector.
Kuwait has only one state university, Kuwait University. The Kuwaiti government provides several scholarship schemes for its nationals, either through Kuwait University, the Ministry of Higher Education, or Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research. Hence, although it is a small country, a big proportion of its students travel abroad for their higher studies, firstly because they can afford to do so and secondly in order to benefit from the higher status and the prestige of overseas qualifications. Furthermore, there is a feeling that although many students were sent to other countries such as Australia and Canada, the outcome was found to be unsatisfactory and there is a feeling among the decision-makers ‘to go back to their roots’, which means studying in the UK. There are a little over 1,000 Kuwaitis currently studying in the UK in undergraduate and post-graduate programmes and on English-language courses.
The undergraduate education market can be segmented as Kuwaiti children in years 11 and 12, either at public (government) schools, who will be taking Thanawiya Ama (the standard Higher Secondary School certificate), or those at private or international schools, who will be taking GCSE / IGCSE and A-levels. These students will have access to scholarships from the Ministry of Higher Education, which offers approximately 1500 grants each year. In addition, there are also non-Kuwaiti children in years 11 and 12 at international schools. These include children from the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, India, Pakistan and Arabian countries, especially Egypt.
Despite seven new operational private universities in Kuwait joining Kuwait University as providers of higher education, the UK remains a popular choice for students seeking higher education outside Kuwait. The private universities include Gulf Institute of Science and Technology (GUST), American University of Kuwait (AUK), The Arab Open University (AOU) and the Australian College of Kuwait (ACK). In September 2008 the new American University of the Middle East (AUM) opened in addition to these. We believe that the market segment seeking higher education in the UK will not be affected significantly by the growth of the private universities. More and more students, Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti, are enquiring about overseas opportunities.
Some factors affecting this increase are seen as: the stricter US regulations since 11 September 2001; the quality of UK education being respected and deemed prestigious; the UK being geographically closer to the Middle East than North America; and the continued ‘Kuwaitisation’ plan of replacing the expatriate workforce with nationals, which translates into an increasing need for educated Kuwaitis.
Postgraduate students in Kuwait are attracted to the UK due to the shorter course length and closer proximity than the US. With a very limited number of postgraduate courses being offered by Kuwait University, the UK offers significant potential. Increased interest in the New Route PhD has been observed from both the Public Authority of Applied Education and Training (PAAET) and Kuwait University, following active local marketing of these programmes by British Council Kuwait.
The market for EFL courses delivered in Kuwait is mature and competitive. Roughly half the ELT private sector market is represented by the British Council, The British Institute for Training and Education (BITE), and English Language Studies (ELS). The other half is made up of a large number of smaller language institutes of varying quality. There are also government-subsidised English language ‘clubs’ hosted by established state educational institutes in the evenings. EFL courses and institutes are regulated by the Ministry of Education, who monitor fee levels, advertising and syllabus content.
Access and foundation courses are currently more likely to attract Kuwaiti students to the UK than other FE courses. The undergraduate sector is the largest in terms of current and potential future demand, and most students will need a foundation course prior to UK university entry. The British Council has focused over the past two years on promoting foundation courses in Kuwait, and this is now paying off, with significantly raised awareness for this product as a route to a UK qualification. Students will usually be looking for a course that will offer a variety of universities to continue on to successful completion of the course, and the offer is best presented as part of a ‘package’ referring to the degree programme.
Colleges will also find demand for EFL courses (either as part of a foundation course or standing alone) and other pre-university courses such as A-levels. Through our visits to American schools and through the enquiries we receive from students with American schooling about how to progress in the UK education system with the American qualifications they have, we find evidence that there is interest among Kuwaiti and expatriate graduates from international schools offering the American system, as well as Arab students attending Indian or Pakistani schools, to take A-levels or do a foundation year in order to be able to study in the UK.
Local FE courses are directed by the Public Authority for Applied Education and Training (PAAET), which is an autonomous body under the Ministry of Higher Education. With their introduction of NVQ courses, future links with UK institutions look set to increase. The awareness of foundation programmes continues to grow, and they are increasingly being viewed as the most accessible route to UK undergraduate programmes for non-British curriculum students.