British Embassy Riyadh
Mr. Hancock’s first visit to Saudi Arabia confirms substantial interest in UK educational, technical and vocational training expertise following some £400 million of contracts already won. The planned Saudi/UK Joint Ministerial and Business Council meetings in London on 4-5 February are a good opportunity to build on this.
Matthew Hancock MP, Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, visited Riyadh on 14-15 January for talks with the Governor of the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) and the Governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA). He also called on the CEO of the Tatweer Education Holding Company (T4EDU), and witnessed the signing of a partnership agreement between T4EDU and the UK National College for Teaching and Leadership. Mr Hancock met a range of UK and Saudi education sector contacts at a well attended receptionat the Embassy Residence.
TVTC and Colleges of Excellence
The senior officials involved on the Saudi side gave a comprehensive presentation on the contracting out of vocational training colleges to international providers through the Colleges of Excellence (CoE) programme. This PPP programme represented a major change in the Saudi approach which had been modelled to a large extent on UK experience following the Minister of Labour’s successful UK visit in April 2011. TVTC would in due course become more of a regulatory agency with Saudi Skills Standards being responsible for standards and accreditation. International providers were being paid according to their performance, and TVTC was forming strategic partnerships with major employers and investors such as Aramco and Saudi Railways (where TQ had recently won major contracts). A new college and two new industrial training institutes were opening every month, and there were on average 7 applications for every student place in the CoE programme.
Mr. Hancock said he was delighted that some 40% of the first wave of CoE contracts had gone to UK providers. Interest in Wave 2 had been received from 22 UK providers involved in different consortia. A final selection is expected to be confirmed by end February, and TVTC hoped for continued UK support with the programme.
The Deputy Director of the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) explained that 27 Saudi employment and job placement centres had been created, which were also largely modelled on UK welfare to work experience and Job Centre Plus. UK companies were operating these, and HRDF was also talking to other potential UK providers. A comprehensive national insurance and employment assistance programme would be launched shortly.
Tatweer Education Reform Programme
Mr Hancock welcomed the partnership agreement between T4EDU and the UK National College for Teaching and Leadership (worth some £14 million) which involves 600 Saudi education officials travelling for short courses to the UK over the next three years. It follows a major contract recently won by a UK firm to provide training for Saudi English and Maths teachers, and other contracts won by CfBT Education Trust and Oxford University Press. Tatweer said they would also welcome UK input on testing, assessment and schools inspection. The ambition was for Saudi Arabia to become a regional hub for educational services and Arabic language teaching materials.
In a short but warm meeting with SAGIA, the Governor said he had been very pleased with his UK visit last November and was following up with UK companies on the creation of an innovation cluster at King Abdullah Economic City near Jeddah. He wanted SAGIA to provide a more efficient fast track and investor care service for genuine investors, including education and training providers. SAGIA planned to go ahead with a major Saudi Investment Conference in London in May/June, and were discussing details with potential organisers. .
7. There are good prospects for further Saudi/UK strategic partnerships in this sector. The British Council’s Education World Forum this week and the planned Joint Ministerial Committee and Business Council meetings in London on 4-5 February will be good opportunities to take this employability and enterprise agenda forward
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