Abdul is 20, male, university educated, and nationalistic
Boston — He is male, in his mid-20s, university educated, deeply religious, and highly nationalistic. He is likely to be from a low- to middle-income family background. His name is Abdul. He is Saudi Arabian, and as such he is one of today's most highly sought-after human resources.
This is a profile of the average Saudi student enrolled in an American college or university. When he concludes his US study program, he will have his choice of career opportunities. He is inclined to want to work for the Saudi government, out of what he will say is a deep commitment to the development of his country. He is unlikely ever to become a statistic in the third-world brain drain.
As the time of his graduation draws near, he will be courted by American multinational companies operating in Saudi Arabia, for he is their answer to ''Saudization.''
Who is this traveler from the Land of Black Gold? Why is he here? Why do we care?
Saudi Arabia has become a nation of significant political and economic importance to the world at large and to the US in particular. It is the ''boomtown'' of the industrial frontier.
At present it's a maze of pipelines, power lines, bulldozers, jetties, computers; and the site of whole new cities such as Jubail - the largest engineering endeavor in the world.
And yet, in the words of the Saudi oil minister, Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani, Saudi Arabia is not a rich country.
It is poor, because it lacks human resources. Nearly 1 million expatriates are needed in Saudi Arabia to man the industrial machine. Hence the Saudi student is in the US to gain the technical, political, and economic know-how his country requires to free itself of foreign dependency and to become the master of its own destiny.
In 1948, an estimated 90 percent of the population were nomads or peasant farmers and less than 20,000 students were enrolled in all levels of education. Today there are nearly that many Saudis enrolled in US colleges and universities alone, and the total student population in the kingdom is estimated to be about 1.5 million.
US participation in Saudi schooling and training has been extensive. In addition to the thousands of government and privately sponsored Saudi students enrolled in US degree programs, many more are participating in manpower development programs administered by the US-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation.
Still others are participants in contractual training agreements between the Saudi government and US corporations themselves. This trend is likely to continue, as it is already obvious that American corporations and educational institutions will be heavily involved in the education and training programs required to carry out the plans of the Royal Commission for the new cities of Jubail and Yanbu.
The Saudi government appears mindful of its manpower deficiencies. Since the start of the government's three five-year development plans in 1970, the number of schools has tripled, from 2,047 to 6,641, and enrollments have risen from 589 ,500 to 1.5 million. Nevertheless, an estimated 85 percent of the Saudi population is still illiterate.
Whereas the first and second five-year plans stressed expansion in every phase of the economy, the third (1980-85) stresses the development of human resources needed to man that infrastructure, and to that end has authorized $52. 7 billion for spending on education and training, 18.5 percent of the total budget.
Although the third still calls for across-the-board increases in educational facilities, staff, and enrollments, it also covers specific problems.
Technical and vocational education will receive considerable emphasis in the face of critical deficiencies in the number of skilled indigenous personnel.
As the education of girls continues to lag behind that of boys at all levels, new emphasis will be given to the education of women, in those fields where present cultural and religious norms permit their employment and in new career fields as well. The role of women will continue to be dictated, however, by the strict Saudi interpretations of Islamic law, which include the stipulation that men and women do not work together.In higher education, efforts will be made to direct students away from traditional studies in the arts and humanities into priority degree programs in engineering and science and to new specializations within such fields as computer science, alternate energy sources, and telecommunications.Finally, the government has declared an ''urgent priority'' to promote literacy programs among unskilled or semiskilled men aged 18 to 45 so they can be trained in a variety of needed skills. Women, however, were excluded from this specific priority.But while the government's commitment to education is commendable and the recent accmplishments noteworthy, many of the key problems to be addressed cannot be solved by throwing money at them. Attitudes, traditions, personal priorities, and the law of supply and demand often work at cross-purposes to the development of human resources the five-year plans call for.Saudi Arabia needs both plumbers and PhDs. At present, there are not enough of either, and government and industry are competing for the few that do exist. Pirating of personnel is becoming increasingly common as public and private sectors alike seek to replace expatriates with Saudi staff. Pressure for Saudization is forcing American and other foreign companies to develop elaborate recruiting and training programs as a means of fulfilling Saudi ''affirmative action.'' But enticing salaries and training opportunities are not always enough. Saudis are a unique people, their motivations and values a product of their cultural and religious traditions.Saudis are not inclined to pursue vocational training, despite the need for skilled tradesmen and the government's establishment of numerous vocational education centers. The need for such craftsmen is so critical, however, that one American company is teaching craft skills to illiterate Saudis who lack other means of economic advancement.Given the kingdom's ambitious development plans, however, it seems improbable that the trades will be ''Saudized'' for many years to come. There simply will not be enough vocationally trained Saudis to replace the present expatriate labor force.There are similar problems at the other end of the labor scale, too. Representatives of the private sector report that the salary expectations of young college-educated Saudis are high and they are likely to expect supervisory positions. But these expectations are not necessarily unrealistic, given the limited numbers of Saudis available. Within the Saudi government, salaries are less, but new graduates are often placed in positions of extraordinary responsibility, handling huge budgets. In financial terms, it is a ''seller's market,'' and a seller's market in a setting where Saudi values take precedence. The result is often one of cross-cultural conflict. American corporate representatives express frustration over the fact that the ''American work ethic ,'' for example, is an anomaly in Saudi culture, in which great importance is placed on leisure time for family affairs and religious observances - often during the normal workday. But Saudi Arabia's emergence into the league of industrialized nations is an economic phenomenon that cannot be ignored. That is why Abdul is so important and why young men like Abdul will continue to remain one of the world's most sought-after human resources.Mrs. Viola is dean of the office of international affairs, Northeastern University. Besides this article on Saudi Arabia, she has provided the Monitor with others on Nigeria and Singapore.The data included in this article are based on a three-year study of Saudi Arabian manpower conducted by the author under the auspices of the Northeastern University Center for International Higher Education Documentation.