Scholarships Drive Growth in Students from Kuwait

The number of students from Kuwait in the United States has been increasing at a double-digit growth rate each year since 2007. According to the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) latest Open Doors report [1], Kuwait became a top 25 sending country in academic year 2012/13 for the first time, with a total of 5,100 students enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education.

Like Saudi Arabia, the growth in Kuwaiti enrollments can largely be attributed to government-funded scholarship programs. The scholarship program of the State of Kuwait aims to transform the State of Kuwait into a center for IT, financial services and medical sciences [2]. To help the labor market work towards this transformation, scholarships for overseas study are mostly awarded in the fields of engineering and business.

The scholarship is also mainly targeted at undergraduate students, but recipients who want to pursue a graduate degree in the same field as their bachelors can potentially extend their scholarship funding based on their academic performance. Therefore, undergraduate students currently account for most of the growth in Kuwaiti enrollments in the U.S., while the number of graduate students has remained very steady in the past few years. In 2012/13, graduate students constituted just 12% of all the Kuwaiti students [3] in the U.S.

WENR_0914_mobiity_v4-1-600 [4]

 The number of students coming to the U.S. for non-degree programs follows the same growth trend as seen in overall Kuwaiti enrollments.

This is because many Kuwaiti scholarship students need to enroll in an Intensive English Program (IEP) prior to starting their academic programs in order to obtain the required English test (TOEFL/IELTS) score as per the MOHE scholarship rules and regulations.  A report of TOEFL scores [5] from Jan-Dec 2013 shows that Kuwait ranked 131 among 166 countries, with an average score of 72, which is 9 points below the overall average, suggesting greater likelihood of Kuwaiti students’ need for additional English training before enrolling in a degree program. Based on a recent WES analysis, trends in non-degree enrollments are typically a good leading indicator for undergraduate enrollments in the following year.

In addition to Kuwait’s government support, the quality and prestige associated with an American degree [6] makes the U.S. a preferred choice for Kuwaiti students who want to study abroad. In 2010/11, almost one in two Kuwaiti state scholarship students chose the U.S. as their study destination [7].

Last year, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Higher Education announced that it would award 4,500 study-abroad scholarships for 2013-2014 [8]. Given the on-going incentive from the government-funded scholarship program and the general preference for a U.S. education among Kuwaiti students, it can be expected that the inflow of Kuwaiti students will continue to grow in the coming years.

To recruit students from Kuwait, universities need to be part of the Ministry’s approved list [9] and offer specified accredited majors. In addition, providing an Intensive English Program [10] would also be an advantage for institutions wishing to attract students from Kuwait.

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