Saudi Arabia: Visit by Minister for Skills and Enterprise: Background Brief – January 2014
British Embassy Riyadh
Minister’s first visit to Saudi Arabia very timely. Opportunity to engage with the Ministries of Labour, Higher Education, and Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) on the ambitious Saudisation programme, and UK inputs to the wider education and skills agenda.
Matthew Hancock MP, Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, will make his first visit to Riyadh on 14-15 January. The main purpose is to support the UK technical and vocational training offer as Saudi Arabia invests massively in developing the right skills to equip Saudi nationals for private sector employment.
Matthew Hancock’s official host will be Dr Ali Al Ghafis, TVTC Governor, who has the rank of a Minister. Mr Hancock will also meet Dr Salah Al Amr, Head of the Colleges of Excellence Programme as well as the Minister of Labour and senior HR officials. Mr Hancock will call separately on SAGIA (the Saudi General Investment Authority) who are keen to benefit from UK training expertise and small business development.
Mr Hancock will also witness the signing of a partnership agreement between the UK’s National College for Teaching and Leadership and the TATWEER Education Reform Programme, and will meet a range of UK and Saudi education and training contacts over dinner at my residence.
Saudi Arabia is currently implementing an ambitious Saudisation programme to address high levels of youth unemployment. The Saudi Minister of Labour, Dr Adel Faqieh, is leading the effort to increase the proportion of school leavers entering technical and vocational training, and to incentivise more young Saudis to seek private sector employment. He made a successful visit to the UK in 2011, and was impressed with UK welfare to work and employer led training schemes. Mr Hancock’s predecessor, John Hayes MP, visited Riyadh in 2012 following which a number of UK training providers including Pearson have won significant contracts worth nearly £400 million over 5 years to operate new Saudi Colleges of Excellence and other professional training institutes.
The Saudi side will also be keen to discuss UK experience of entrepreneurship promotion and small enterprise development. This issue will figure highly on the agenda of the first meeting of the Saudi/UK Joint Ministerial Trade Committee in London on 4 February. The Governor of SAGIA, Dr Abdullatif Al Othman, met Mr Hancock in London in November, and is keen to access UK experience of developing innovation clusters. Tech City Investment Organisation and Cambridge Enterprise will make presentations at SAGIA’s Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh on 19-20 January, and have been asked to advise on development of a small enterprise cluster at King Abdullah Economic City near Jeddah.
Opportunities and Challenges
Education and training is one of the main pillars of our fast expanding £10 billion trade relationship with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Ministries and agencies would like greater access to UK professional training and qualifications. Some 16,000 Saudi students are currently studying in the UK, and Mr Hancock may have the opportunity to press for greater UK involvement in the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme with Dr Al Angari.
The Saudis are also interested in the early launch of a post graduate medical training programme in the UK: this is currently under consideration with the GMC and Healthcare England over the type of qualification such students would obtain at the end of their training. They and the Saudi Co-Chair of the Joint Business Council (whom Mr Hancock will meet at the reception) may also raise the establishment of an internship programme for Saudi students graduating from the King Abdullah Scholarship programme in the UK– a proposal which will be discussed at the Joint Ministerial Trade and Business Council meetings in London on 4-5 February.
A particular challenge is to increase employment of Saudi women. Some progress is being made on this following the opening of the retail sector to women’s employment, and better training facilities. A consortium headed by the North East Surrey College of Technology (NESCOT) is operating a new women’s college near Jeddah, and UK investors such as Saudi British Bank (SABB) are employing increasing numbers of Saudi female graduates. UK welfare to work providers such as Avanta and Working Links are also operating employment training centres sponsored by the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF). Mr Hancock will therefore be able to welcome the considerable progress in UK/Saudi training partnerships since the Minister of Labour’s 2011 visit, as well as to support new ventures.
The purpose of the FCO Country Update(s) for Business (”the Report”) prepared by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) is to provide information and related comment to help recipients form their own judgments about making business decisions as to whether to invest or operate in a particular country. The Report’s contents were believed (at the time that the Report was prepared) to be reliable, but no representations or warranties, express or implied, are made or given by UKTI or its parent Departments (the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)) as to the accuracy of the Report, its completeness or its suitability for any purpose. In particular, none of the Report’s contents should be construed as advice or solicitation to purchase or sell securities, commodities or any other form of financial instrument. No liability is accepted by UKTI, the FCO or BIS for any loss or damage (whether consequential or otherwise) which may arise out of or in connection with the Report.