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The State of Distance Education in Saudi Arabia

By Hend Suliman Al-Khalifa / October 2009

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Saudis learning at computers Saudi Arabia has been slower than many nations to move into distance education. The Kingdom has had a very short history of using printed, electronic, or broadcast means for students who are not physically on site.

Experiencing higher education capacity issues, and anxious to improve the knowledge and skills of its citizens, Saudi Arabia now recognizes the need to adopt distance education as part of its educational and development strategies.

Bachelor degree programs have only been offered through traditional universities' distance education programs for about a decade, and policies for single-mode, distance, and virtual tertiary institutions are still under development for approval by the Ministry of Higher Education.

Some public universities, such as King Abdulaziz University and Al-Imam Mohammad ibn Saud Islamic University, are dual-mode while single-mode distance education is offered by the Arab Open University.

Distance education is primarily applied where gender segregation is required in tertiary education, where male lecturers are only authorized to teach female students by means of closed-circuit television, one-way video and two-way audio and broadcast.

3 Online Learning Programs in Saudi Arabia
Three examples illustrate recent developments in Saudi distance education. The first is the establishment of the Deanship and Faculty of Distance Learning at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, designed to provide distance learning in the western region of the country. Its first academic year of operation was 2007-2008, and its programs are offered by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and Faculty of Economics and Administration.

These programs involve blended learning, the virtual class room system (CENTRA), which provides lectures over the internet and the e-learning management electronic system, which facilitates interaction between students and faculty. The Deanship is also responsible for training and certificating faculty members and individuals outside the university in distance education as well as students using the system. King Abdulaziz University is also the permanent headquarters of the Saudi Distance Learning Society.

The second example is the Al-Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University. The school has been authorized by the Ministry of Higher Education to offer distance education courses leading to bachelor degrees. Admission is open to all Saudi and non-Saudi students in all majors. Lectures are transmitted live via the internet on a daily basis, and these transmissions are also recorded and uploaded onto a web site for students to watch at their convenience.

Student-lecturers communication occurs via emails, forums, and virtual classrooms. In 2008, more than 6,000 students were admitted to the university, and more than 15,000 are currently enrolled in the program (Imam, 2009).

The third example, showing how distance learning methods and technology can be used to improve higher education opportunities and facilities for female students, has been the use of very small aperture terminal (VSAT) broadcasting technology and the internet to teach more than 300 masters' students in 36 Girls Colleges. Online Education for Women in Saudia Arabia

The Girls' Colleges, which previously operated under the umbrella of General Presidency for Girls Education, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Education, now operate under the aegis of the Princess Noura University. The first part of this project was in the first semester of 2006 with the cultural, religious, and economics lectures broadcast from Riyadh to the Girls' Colleges around the Kingdom; the second part was concerned with the development of e-learning curriculums which was hosted on the General Presidency for Girls Education web site (Al-Kethery, 2006).

Private vs. Public
Like most Arab countries, Saudi Arabia has yet to authorize alternative providers, such as private institutions or virtual universities. However, the private but non-profit Arab Open University, which was founded in 2002 in Kuwait, Jordan, and Lebanon and subsequently opened branches in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, has been accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education and National Commission for Academic Accreditation and Assessment (NCAAA).

The Arab Open University is sponsored by the Arab Gulf Program for United Nations Development Organizations and is affiliated with the U.K. Open University. It has fully accredited regional centres in Saudi Arabia in Jeddah, Ahsa, Dammam, Hail, and Medina. It has three faculties: business studies; language studies (English language); and information technology and computing.

Students learn via the Moodle-based learning management system, interactive multimedia lectures, face-to-face lectures and practical sessions and study texts. The lectures are also made available via DVDs, streaming video, and video formats for portable devices such as mobile phones and iPods.

Computing facilities and wireless internet access are available in all of the regional centres, which are equipped with separate labs for male and female students. Most of the classrooms are also equipped with instructors' PCs, multimedia kits, and video-conferencing equipment for teaching and intra-branch meetings and male-female closed circuit TV transmission. There are currently plans to equip students with state-of-the-art laptops.

The Arab Open University subscribes to a number of world-class digital libraries and these online resources are also accessible to the students through the learning-management system. Arab Open University enrollees must have successfully completed their secondary education, be proficient in English, and able to afford the relatively high fees. Collaboration, partnership and licensing agreements between the Arab Open University and the U.K. Open University allow it to adopt and adapt U.K. learning materials for its own use, be accredited by U.K. Open University Validation Services, and award its own degrees.

However, Arab Open University degrees are not universally recognized throughout the region, even in Lebanon, despite the school having one of its branches there and having established quality assurance units in all of its branches (Abouchedid & Eid, 2004).

Virtual Universities and Foreign Accreditation
Another interesting development has been the launch of the Knowledge International University, the first virtual university in Saudi Arabia. Knowledge International University, or KIU, is a non-profit, Islamic, virtual university offering bachelor-level degrees programs from the College of Sharee'ah and Qur'anic studies and the College of Islamic Studies for non-Arabic Speakers.

KIU has gathered an international array of leading scholars of high repute to supervise and deliver academically sound curricula in the various traditional disciplines of learning. Entrants to KIU must have either hold high school certificates or pass an admissions exam. They study by using a mix of PDF study materials, audio and video recorded lectures, and live lectures. Each subject consists of 25 live and recorded lectures. The attendance policy mandates that students listen to at least 15 of the 20 recorded lectures but be physically present at four of the five live lectures.

In 2008, KIU had students in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. KIU is seeking to expand its range of courses. It was also seeking accreditation from the Ministry of Higher Education, a process which had been delayed by the Ministry's finalizing of the rules and regulations governing e-learning and accreditation from other Arabic and international institutions.

The Ministry has not yet moved to accredit online distance education provided by international universities because it currently stipulates that to approve a degree from any international university, the students must be able to present evidence that their time is dedicated to studying on a full-time basis while residing in the country where the degree was earned. Thus, not surprisingly, unaccredited online universities play a much smaller role than organizations-funded universities.

However, some Saudi students enroll in courses offered by University of Phoenix Online, the largest private, accredited university in the U.S., and premier educational provider for working professionals throughout the world.

Given the increasing population rates and expansion of the main cities in Saudi Arabia, distance education would appear to be an obvious means of widening access and offering quality and flexibility in programs of choice. However, there are some constraining factors. Distance education is often looked upon by academic staff as less scholarly, less rewarding, and offering fewer career advantages. There is still a lack of funding and insufficient ICT infrastructure. The students too may be resistance to change since most of them are comfortable with traditional classroom education and lack the motivation for self-directed learning.

But I would expect these constraints to diminish over time as more students reap the advantages of distance education, and the government and universities appreciate the need to extend and improve tertiary education opportunities and take advantage of technology.


  • Wed, 02 Jun 2010
    Post by maha quraishi

    it is good to know how saudi arabia is improving in the distance education field...but i would say it has a lot to improve in science field.. im a BSc life sciences student n i was looking for any masters program on distance mode in ksa...but there seems to be none..i would appreciate if people looked upon that.. thank you...

  • Mon, 29 Mar 2010
    Post by Parveez Ahemad Buruj

    I would like to no more about the Quranic Arabic Language grammar through online/distance learning.

    Please share me the university url or contact info.

    Jazak Allah Thanks, Parveez Ahemad

  • Mon, 01 Feb 2010
    Post by Muktiono Waspodo

    I would like to explanation e-learning and distance learning from King Saud University, Saudi arabia Thank a lot of your's explanation and attention.

    Best Regards

    Muktiono Waspodo Jakarta - Indonesia

  • Mon, 30 Nov 2009
    Post by Dr. Hurip Danu Ismadi

    Please give me more detail information of distance learning at the Al-Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University. It is very useful to me. How to register it? and how entering as a student if I am from Indonesia. Is it possible? Thank a lot of your explanation and attention.

    Best Regards

    Dr. Hurip Danu Ismadi Jakarta - Indonesia

  • Thu, 12 Nov 2009
    Post by Parveez

    Good to see that adopting new trends... it should be more focus on specific user center to learn more better.

    All the best. Parveez Ahemad

  • Sun, 08 Nov 2009
    Post by Mohammed Mustafa

    Great work, though Still needs more effort to cross that edge and enterthe elearning world, widey .. I am gonna till you that elearning will solve many problems especially in saudi arabia.

    Hope to hear about more success Many thanks for your time

  • Fri, 06 Nov 2009
    Post by Katherine Bolman

    I would be interested in working with you to develop an online history of art and architecture course. I could develop it as a standalone source using a basic art history text or I could work with one of your professors to develop it in a way that works for them.

    I am working on a course that you can see at

    this force can be developed in a number of ways depending upon your theory of education. It can be developed as a project based course were the students interact on a regular basis. It can be developed as a more lecture class where the lectures can be posted within the course material or I can use Skype and enters the classroom itself. The work I'm doing at this point is so That teachers can use the micro lessons at standalone units over history and social studies teachers can use the micro- lessons as adjunct material to their history courses.

    I would be interested in hearing from any school that would like to work with me.

    My e-mail address is [email protected]

  • Mon, 02 Nov 2009
    Post by Sahar

    I'd just like to add something to this great article , about the significant efforts made by (National Center for e-Learining & Distance learning ) -in Saudi Arabia. Such as JUSUR LMS to provide high value integrated learning.

    Thanks alots to editorial board efforts in this magazine and Special thanks to Prof.Hend who guide us to this Excellent technology magazine.

  • Fri, 30 Oct 2009
    Post by yasser

    thanks for topic and i get a good site too

  • Wed, 16 Jul 2008
    Post by Eamon Costello

    "Deciding to abandon a purchased product implies that the selection process was flawed, after all." - Very true. Allied to the fact the we must be constantly evaluating technologies