Leeds Beckett University
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The transition of Saudi Arabia from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy: Developing Human and Social and Moral Capital in the 21st century through a Case Study of the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme (KASP) programme

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posted on 2022-08-02, 14:47 authored by Hadeel Alzaidalsharif

Background/Context: Capital is sometimes broadly understood to be material wealth, whether liquid or otherwise, that can be used for further production. Thus, those who own capital, or the means of production, are in a position to increase their own wealth. This is the backbone of a Capitalist System, as described by theorists such as Karl Marx and Adam Smith. However, such understanding of capital in material or economic terms is inadequate. Although it explains the flow of wealth within a resource-based economy, it does not explain what is necessary to transition from a resource-based to a knowledge-based economy. In a knowledge-based economy, where capital is no longer strictly associated with material wealth or ownership, there is more potential for benefits to circulate and for the entire society to be enriched. Yet, how this can occur and what its foundations should be remains unclear.

In 2005, the KSA established the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme (KASP) to enrich the knowledge base of society. The programme funds Saudi citizens to attend foreign universities, mostly in western countries. Like many comparable programmes, the KASP aims to boost the educational level of the population, redistribute wealth and capital, and generate cultural and social capital. As opposed to monetary wealth these refer to a range of less tangible resources that make it more likely for individuals in society to be able to enrich the knowledge base of that society. Such programmes are arguably a crucial part of establishing a knowledge-based economy, which Saudi Arabia aims to do through its Saudi Vision 2030 reform programme. How KASP addresses this complex and imperfectly defined goal remains an unexplored topic. 

Purpose/Research Question: This study examines how Saudi Arabia can transition from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based society by developing human and social capital. It is guided by a case study to: A) explore the role of scholarship programmes (KASP) in the country and B) identify, if any, challenges and skills needed during and after the programme which can impact on human and social capital. 

Research Design: A qualitative method was adopted, and 12 semi-structured interviews were conducted with A) students who graduated from the KASP programme and B) KASP administrators. The interviews explored the perceptions and perspectives of the participants relating to the programme itself, focusing on the issues around building human and social capital in the 21st Century. The translated transcripts were coded and analysed using Thematic Analysis (TA). 

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study concludes that, in addition to acquiring a degree from a university abroad, Saudi nationals develop ‘moral capital’ that is accessed through authentic encounters with the local societies and networks in the foreign country of study. This outcome contributed to a greater understanding of moral capital, particularly as it relates to the unanticipated finding of Saudi students who returned from their studies abroad with altered perceptions of morality and new beliefs about right and wrong. Thus, it has been found that both moral and social capital is mobilised through the KASP. The transition to a knowledge-based society involves an evolution in how forms of capital are viewed. When comparing the findings of the present research with thinkers such as Bourdieu, Warsh, and Benkler, it can be seen that social and moral aspects of capital are more integrated than previously envisaged. Therefore, this thesis recommends that this mobilisation of moral and social capital be supported by developing better opportunities for the reintegration of KASP graduates in order that they can apply their knowledge and new perspectives, particularly through the education system and the job market.


Qualification name

  • PhD


Antony Bryant

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


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