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Saudis favour US books, but UK schools

A recent flurry of course-book adoptions in Saudi Arabia suggest that, though the UK seems to remain the top destination for Saudi students, when it comes to course material used back home, the ball remains firmly in the American English court.

According to Arab News, Saudi Minister of Education Hamid Al- Sheikh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with MM American Publishing Group, “A US group specialising in providing language teaching books”, at the end of September as part of the Minister’s tour of “American research centres and universities”.

MM American Publishing Group does not appear to exist. However, the CEO named in the article, Giannis Malkogiannis, does. He heads up the multinational MM Educational Group, with headquarters in Greece. Contacted by the Gazette to confirm that the MOU was with the American arm of his company, Malkogiannis confirmed that the agreement “refers to MM Educational Group”.

Meanwhile, US-based publisher National Geographic Learning is also expanding its footprint in the Arab Kingdom, announcing a partnership with Saudi public investment company Talemia to provide learning materials for 150,000 students of business management, marketing and healthcare, also this September.

But holding up the corner for the UK is Cambridge University Press, which last year signed an agreement for a Saudi version of Power Up, a primary course, while the localised version of its secondary course Evolve was also launched in the Kingdom last year.

US publishers have an advantage over their UK rivals when it comes to school books, because the US has its own large domestic market of English language learners who need school books. “The US specialists in this field are familiar with and have very high experience in dealing with these age groups,” one Saudi education consultant told the Arab News.

The apparent preference for US specialists may also be a preference for the American norm of using well-known academics as lead authors on course-book series. UK publishers, who have adopted the US habit of using writing teams in recent years, rarely use academics in other than a consultative role. Even in the UK market, US EFL courses are taking market share from local publishers, with the latter concentrating on new editions of courses first published 20 or 30 years ago, according to one distributor.

In terms of language travel, however, Saudis still seem to be opting for the UK. In the first half of this year, they made up the largest source market for UK language schools in terms of student weeks, according to English UK. Kuwait also made the top 10.

Image courtesy of PHOTO SHUTTERSTOCK
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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