OXFORDSHIRE’S education expertise will be used to transform the lives of thousands of women in Saudia Arabia.
A multi-million-pound deal has been signed with the group behind the former Oxford and Cherwell Valley College.
Oxford-based Activate Learning is part of a group set to open three further education colleges in September to teach 6,000 women.
The five-year deal for vocational courses is part of Kingdom-funded efforts to get women into the workforce to meet its growing economy.
While Saudi women have gone to university, the first women-only vocational college in the country only opened last September.
Final costs have yet to be agreed but the three Oxford-run colleges will be among 12 to be run by UK firms for £850m and will teach 24,000 students – 14,000 women. Profits will go to Activate, which runs Banbury and Bicester College and City of Oxford College, formerly Oxford and Cherwell Valley College.
Chief executive Sally Dicketts said: “These colleges will provide women with the skills and qualifications needed to enter vocational employment for the first time.
“The programme represents a significant investment and shift in approaches to education in Saudi Arabia and we are delighted to be part of it.”
She said it would “empower” women to “develop the technical skills and qualifications required for successful futures”.
The colleges – to take 500 students each from September – are in the north in Sakaka, Arar and Qurayyat.
They will focus on English language training in the first year then courses like IT and finance, hair and beauty and fashion design.
Mrs Dicketts said the deal was important at a time of uncertainty for funding for UK students. She said: “Income from the contract will be invested in teaching and learning facilities to benefit our students in the UK.”
The project will be delivered under the name The Oxford Partnership with international educational consultancy GEMS Education Solutions and Northampton’s Moulton College, to provide agricultural programmes.
Video conferences will be held between the two countries’ students and the leaders also hope it will lead to exchange trips.
It is one part of 100 colleges to be set up under the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Colleges of Excellence programme.
Already, 16 of the 37 announced colleges have been handed to British firms, netting more than £1bn.
Ten opened last year, including the first women-only colleges, and 26 more will open in September.
Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for children, education and families Melinda Tilley said: “I am very pleased. If you educate women you educate society and that is a really good thing.”
Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise Matthew Hancock said: “These deals are a vote of confidence in the UK’s improving education system.”
Saudi Arabia is ranked joint 57th out of 187 on the UN’s Development Programme’s gender inequality index.
Some 50.3 per cent of women go into secondary education and just 17.7 per cent work, compared to 74.1 per cent of men. Women are forbidden to drive and one was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving in 2011, though King Abdullah overturned the sentence.