Mohawk College says it's making a sound investment in partnering with two other Ontario post-secondary institutions to start a college in Saudi Arabia.
Mohawk, Fanshawe and Seneca colleges plan to spend $2.5 million each this year to open the Madinah College for Women in western Saudi Arabia. The trio joined forces as the Ontario College Consortium to answer a request for proposals issued by the kingdom earlier this year.
Projections show Mohawk earning back its money in about two years, spokesperson Jay Robb said.
"We've done our homework," he said. "We think it's a good deal. It's a good deal for the women of Saudi Arabia."
The plan, he said, has "a healthy rate of return."
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents about 15,000 college faculty and support staff in the province, isn't so sure.
The union worries that the schools entered into an agreement too quickly, and didn't thoroughly investigate before committing millions.
"This is a questionable and risky international venture, and we want to know why it is being pushed through in such a hurry," president Warren Thomas said in a statement this week.
"We are calling for due diligence to be done before sending important Ontario college funding out of the country."
Risk analysis by the consortium partners show potential variables, such as lower than expected enrolment. A public report presented to the Fanshawe board of directors in April shows a "moderate" risk of not meeting financial targets and a high likelihood of student attrition.
The school will educate about 2,000 Saudi women with "the same quality education that our students receive here in Ontario," Robb said. The Saudi education system has a "significant gap" when it comes to vocational education and training. Less than 10 per cent of the Saudi workforce receives vocational training. The government wants to increase that to 40 or 45 per cent.
The start-up funding doesn't come from general operations or tuition revenue, Robb said. If all goes according to plan, the school will make money on the five-year deal.
"The fact that our three colleges were chosen following an international search and review reflects the world-class calibre of college education here in Ontario," he said.
Wants to slow down process
The consortium has advertised for a project manager, which is a three-year contract position based out of Seneca that will also include trips to Saudi Arabia. The consortium's agreement is with the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation of Saudi Arabia.
Mohawk will take the lead in delivering the environmental, chemical and food technology programs at Madinah College. Fanshawe will lead the fashion and beauty programs and Seneca will lead the administration and business programs.
OPSEU would rather see the money stay in Ontario's education system, said spokesperson Emily Visser.
"We're trying to slow down the process and allow for some discussion to happen," she said.
"We're hoping there will be further conversation and that this will be taken a lot more seriously."