A New Blueprint for Education in Saudi Arabia

BCG collaborated on an ambitious restructuring of Saudi Arabia’s education system.

The government of Saudi Arabia wanted to merge its K–12 and higher education ministries to strengthen the employability of graduates, develop qualified teachers, and improve systemwide efficiency. The combined organization would be the largest employer in the country, with more than 800,000 employees.

The proposed merger was meant to address several major challenges faced by Saudi Arabia’s education system. Many high school graduates were ill-prepared for college or a career: 90% of students needed a foundation year before enrolling at a university, and youth unemployment was high. There were highly variable passing rates on national exams among schools, and teacher development needed significant improvement. The education systems in Saudi Arabia were also misaligned; the general, vocational, and higher-education systems each pursued divergent strategies.

Designing the Blueprint

The Saudi government contracted BCG to help design and implement an ambitious restructuring of the country’s education system. The project was carried out in three phases.

In the diagnostic phase, BCG analyzed the situation at the two ministries, identified best practices through benchmarks, highlighted quick wins, and created an integration plan. In the design phase, BCG crafted the organizational blueprint of the new ministry, developed a detailed operating model, and updated relevant processes. In the implementation phase, BCG created a structured roadmap to support the new organization in carrying out the recommended changes—with clear milestones, timetables, and responsibilities. BCG also designed and established a merger management office, supplying tools to track progress as well as creating a thorough description of roles and responsibilities.

Six Key Areas for Improvement

BCG identified six key areas for improvement in the Saudi education system and made detailed recommendations for each:

  • Systemwide Planning and Strategy. Create seamless strategy development and assessment of systemwide performance and consistent educational data reporting for national and international purposes. BCG also recommended the creation of a comprehensive education strategy that encompasses K–12, higher education, and vocational education, as well as the establishment of an independent body to oversee the development and execution of the strategy.
  • Alignment with Workforce Planning. Optimize student enrollment and career readiness so as to meet the needs of workforce plans and establish a body that facilitates collaboration between the ministry of education and stakeholders involved in workforce planning. The body will meet on a regular basis to share relevant data, such as forecasts of job needs.
  • College Readiness and Assessment Strategy. Ensure student readiness during the transition from K–12 to tertiary education, align assessment standards with the curriculum standards of K–12 and higher education requirements, phase out the university preparatory year, and create pathways between vocational education and universities in specific majors.
  • Career Readiness. Ensure students are prepared to meet the needs of the labor market and make well-informed choices regarding their careers. Establish a career education department within the ministry of education. Introduce an updated curriculum to foster 21st century skills and meet employers' requirements, develop a career education program in primary school, and strengthen overall career guidance.
  • Teacher Education and Professional Development. Align K–12 teacher requirements with development programs and advance teachers' professional development, elevate common standards for teacher education curricula, devise higher entry requirements for teacher education programs, and introduce new positions and career tracks for teachers as part of career progression.
  • Quality Assurance and Accountability. Improve efficiency and utilization of resources at each level of the education ecosystem and ensure the independence and parity of the quality-assuring bodies, including independence of their boards.

Far-Reaching Impact

The impact of the transformation program has been significant. Key improvements include:

  • A new organizational structure for the Saudi education ministry, with detailed functional statements for each department
  • New job descriptions created for key positions
  • New processes to ensure organizational efficiency
  • A detailed implementation roadmap
  • The creation of a merger management office with tools to track progress and detailed descriptions of roles and responsibilities
  • A centralized planning department that facilitates common strategy for K–12 and higher education systems
  • The establishment of a center for teacher development to regulate, monitor, and manage development from both the K–12 and higher education points of view
  • The creation of a centralized private education department
  • Streamlined staffing thanks to consolidation of support functions
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