Ruwayshid Alruwaili published in University World News (15 July 2016 – Issue 00422) about how the Saudi Law change for better MOOCs is seriously envisaged. So, according to him :
“Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are growing in size and quality and Saudi Arabia is not exempt from this phenomenon. However, government regulations and laws limit the benefits Saudi people can derive from MOOC platforms, and need to be amended.
MOOCs now offer more study options than ever before. The problem is that the Saudi regulations are outdated, and were imposed at a time when MOOCs as a method of distance education did not exist. The only regulating and governing body in Saudi Arabia is the Ministry of Education. On its website the ministry states that it does not recognise any award achieved or obtained through online education.
How then does this relate to the FutureLearn programme, of which the British Council is a partner? Suppose you are an English teacher in Saudi Arabia and you decide to take a FutureLearn programme. Once you finish all three courses and earn your award, the award is not recognised or even accepted by the governing body. We are not talking about getting more pay or promoted in your job. It is not even recognised on your CV at the personal level or that of continuing professional development. In fact, mentioning that you earned an award or certificate via a MOOC may be considered an act of forgery or fraud and you might be subject to a penalty. Of course, this is out of keeping with the escalating global demand for MOOCs.
Education and employment gap
A new perspective that embraces MOOCs as a method of learning and professional development should be adopted. According to the chief executive of edX, there is a gap between education and employment in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Arab world. MOOC platforms can provide the sustainable professional development and the necessary skills that employers are looking for.
However, government regulations stand in the way of achieving this goal. That doesn’t mean that Saudis do not enjoy MOOCs and trying to master subjects in depth, but it would be good to enable them to get the ultimate benefits of MOOCs and the FutureLearn programme. The second obstacle occurs at the university level.
Saudi public universities are regulated and governed by the ministry. Again, the same regulations and rules apply. A student at a Saudi university taking a MOOC such as “Introduction to Social Psychology” cannot transfer the earned credit. In simple terms, there is only a bricks-and-mortar kind of education and not a bricks-and-clicks one. Although there is a deanship for online education at every Saudi public university, their role seems to be limited to the introduction of some online training courses.
Furthermore, there is a Saudi MOOC platform called Rwaq offering free online courses similar to Coursera and Futurelearn. Co-founder Fuoad Al-Farhan told The Wall Street Journal in 2013 that Rwaq was in talks with five universities to launch online education courses. However, nothing has actually happened since then.
Although Rwaq is growing in size and quality, it still offers free online education with no national university impact with regard to credit transfer or award recognition. Saudi universities have to embrace the fact that MOOCs are becoming popular worldwide and that they represent a real opportunity and ‘asset’ in higher education.
Amend the regulations
These observations are not to show the success of MOOCs in education, but to demonstrate that the laws and the regulations in Saudi Arabia are not in alignment with recent developments. Of course, regulations have not stopped Saudis from gaining access to quality education on MOOC platforms. However, they reduce the experience and benefit of MOOCs to the minimum and promote low quality training courses instead. We need an urgent amendment of the regulations to pave the way for high-quality online academic content.”
Ruwayshid Alruwaili is head of the English and Linguistics Department at Northern Borders University in Saudi Arabia.