The Saudi Cultural Mission’s New Headquarters
SUSTG Analysis | Lucien Zeigler | 7.24.12
The new SACM headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia provides a modern hub for Saudi Students in the United States, and stands as a symbol of the strong cultural relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Until recently, the future of the iconic Watergate hotel and office complex in Washington DC, which was the site of the infamous burglary 30 years ago last month that brought Richard Nixon’s presidency to an end, was uncertain. Once home to DC’s finest restaurants, the headquarters of the Democratic Party, lavish apartments, and unparalleled views of the Potomac river, the Watergate complex was no longer DC’s “it” residence. And on June 19, 2011, it lost an important tenant: the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) in the United States.
Although it now appears a gradual overhaul awaits the Watergate, the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission has moved into bigger and better digs: modern, custom built headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. Inaugurated a year ago, the new SACM complex was built to accommodate the soaring number of Saudi students studying in the United States.
SACM’s magnificent new building reflects HRH King Abdullah and the Saudi Government’s belief that education is a top priority for the Kingdom.. Government spending on this sector continues to soar with the 2012 Saudi budget committing 168.6 billion riyals (about $45 billion) for education and training. This represents about a quarter of the entire government budget. Compare that with 15% in the United States.
Now, SACM has a brand new headquarters and tens of thousands of students to in the United States to assist. SACM administers the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, one of HRH Saudi King Abdullah’s most successful educational policies, which provides eligibal Saudis the chance to study abroad at top universities across the world in order to build the next generation of Saudi business leaders at home. Roughly 6,000 Saudi students graduated from US universities in the last year, and it is estimated that 140,000 are currently studying abroad across the world, with one-third of those in the United States.
The move to a new building has not slowed SACM’s other efforts across the United States. Recently, SACM organized a massive career fair and graduation at the sprawling Gaylord Hotel in the Washington D.C. area. This event brought together graduates and Saudi officials and enabled students to interact with prominent Saudi and non-Saudi companies as they pursue employment and business opportunities.
SACM implements “Saudi national educational and training policies to provide Saudi Arabia with qualified individuals capable of achieving the country’s goals of progress and development,” according to the organization’s website. Originally founded as the Saudi Cultural office in America, the organization at first looked after only 48 students at that time. In 1975, the office relocated to Houston, Texas, and its name was changed to the Saudi Educational Office to the United States of America. After a branch office was established in Los Angeles in 1978, the end of 1984 saw the main office moved back from Houston to Washington, D.C. In addition to the main office in Washington, D.C. and the Los Angeles branch office, three new branches were opened in Denver, Chicago and Houston. However, in 1987, the Denver and Chicago branch offices were closed and a major reorganization in 1988 resulted in the consolidation of the remaining branches into the main office in Washington, D.C., which was renamed Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the USA.
The new SACM headquarters inaugurated in 2011 reflect the growing importance of Saudi education and the strength of Saudi-U.S. diplomatic ties. The United States is the number one destination for Saudi students on the King Abdullah Scholarship abroad. Awaiting the students that finish the program and earn decrees from the United States is a strong job market for Saudis back home, particularly with Nitaqat restrictions (an effort by the Saudi Government to encourage the hiring of Saudi citizens) now in place. As the Saudi Gazette noted in May of 2012, “all government departments and major private sector companies are on the lookout for qualified Saudis. Their participation in the job market is expected to give a new impetus to the nation’s development.”