​In a bid to boost cooperation in education sector, Saudi Arabia has made plans to send some 350 students to study at New Zealand’s eight universities, a New Zealand diplomat said yesterday.

The Saudi students will go to Wellington in March-April this year under a scholarship program for Asia and Oceania recently announced by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.

Greg Lewis, a spokesman for the New Zealand Embassy, said that the undergraduate and postgraduate students would be enrolled in different courses under the expanded Saudi scholarship program.

“A senior education expert, Dr. David Brook, from Education New Zealand (ENZ) will arrive here on Feb. 25 to process applications of students and formally select them before they leave for Wellington,” he said.

The ENZ is entrusted with the task of facilitating admission of students. It is a non-profit organization governed by the New Zealand export education industry. It is recognized by the government as an industry body for education exporters.

The ENZ has also employed a temporary staff member in Riyadh in the past several months; the staff member assists with the administration and coordination required in the Saudi-funded scholarship program.

Asked about the courses chosen by the Saudi students, Lewis said that they would be admitted to different courses including medical, IT and engineering.

“In fact, the students will join more than 500 students from the Gulf states who are currently enrolled in other New Zealand educational institutions,” New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Minister Michael Cullen said in a statement.

Cullen said, “The Saudi scholarships program will not only boost New Zealand’s earnings from export education but also strengthen cooperation and understanding between the two countries.”

He also pointed out that universities in New Zealand are very experienced in satisfying the overall requirements of international students including those from the Gulf.

Under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program worth SR10 billion, the Saudi government has already sent some 20,000 students abroad for higher studies. Officials said another 8,000 students would benefit from scholarship grants, taking the total tally this year to 28,000.

The scholarship program was planned as part of the national strategy to combat poverty, Social Affairs Minister Abdul Mohsen Al-Akkas said recently. “Priority will be given to scholarships in specialized diplomas that meet the needs of the job market,” the minister said.