London, May, 2010 – At a recent education fair in London, there was a scene that would have brought joy to the hearts of those working towards women’s emanicipation in the Middle East. Not only was there a record turnout of international students at the fair, which featured nearly 100 British universities, there was also a sizeable number of girls from the Middle East eager to learn more about the courses on offer in the UK.
“I was very keen to study. In Saudi Arabia, the courses on offer are pretty limited. When I secured a scholarship from the Saudi government, my parents were convinced that I could study in England for two years. I want to build a good career as an engineer back in Riyadh”, replied a confident Arfa Bushran to a query about why she was participating in the education fair.
While Arfa was allowed to travel to England along with her two classmates, another friend had to stay back after her family protested against her ambitions. “My parents are both educated professionals. They believe that the only way the country will progress is if our women are also allowed the benefits of a foreign education”, adds Arfa’s friend Khatija.
While Saudi society is considered conservative and traditional, other students from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Muscat consider themselves to be on a more even playing field with male students from their countries. “We do have a lot of foreign scholarship offers available in our country now. For me, the only hurdle was convincing my father that a stint abroad would stand me in good stead. He was always supportive of my ambitions for a career in medicine, but was unsure if I should be studying abroad”, says an enthusiastic Bushra Ahmad, who hails from Bahrain.
Most girls rue the lack of quality English education back in their countries. For this reason, the first challenge faced by most students arriving in Britain is strengthening their English language skills. Many have arrived at the education fair to search for an ideal English course London. Even as they plan their future studies in challenging fields, they are also aware of the need to bring their language skills up to a competent level. “I want to learn English London so that I can speak and comprehend English as well as the lady sitting next to me on the tube”, giggles Khatija, as she talks of why she is in London to study English.
The happy faces at the education fair are representative of a new future for the Middle East – empowered, enthusiastic young women keen to contribute to their country’s progress constructively.