A Saudi Arabian scholarship program that has brought thousands of students to Atlantic Canadian universities will soon end.

Peter Halpin, the executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities, said the King Abdullah Scholarship is being "reshaped" and will only support students at the world's 200 best universities.

That ranking comes from the Shanghai Top 300 World Index. No Atlantic Canadian university made the cut this year. Dalhousie University is the closest, holding a spot outside of the top 200.

"That program has had a real, significant, positive effect on the recruitment of Saudi students to the Maritimes," Halpin said Wednesday.

"After China, Saudi Arabia is the number two source country of international students for our universities, so change has significant implications for our institutions."

Since 2005, the King Abdullah Scholarships have covered the tuition and the living expenses for Saudi students to attend North American universities. This year, it brought 1,167 students to Nova Scotia, 290 to New Brunswick and 22 to P.E.I. 

Newfoundland and Labrador numbers weren't available.

No public announcement of changes

King Abdullah died this year and his brother Salman took over. There has been no public announcement of the changes to the scholarship program, but officials at Mount Saint Vincent University, Saint Mary's University and Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia told CBC News they have been told they won't be receiving more students under the program.

Current students aren't affected.

"It's very significant for our universities because our domestic enrolment is in decline and our overall population is in decline, so international students have become very important," said Halpin.

English as a Second Language courses were also covered by the scholarships.

According to the websites for Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., the University of Manitoba, the University of Calgary and the University of Waterloo, those institutions have also received money through the King Abdullah Scholarships. None of them crack the top 200 in this year's Shanghai Top 300 World Index.

Student blames provincial funding

Ahmed Balfagih, the vice-president of Saudi Students Club in Halifax, thinks the problem started with Cape Breton University. At one point it had more than 400 Saudi students. 

"The university exceeded the capacity of their infrastructure and the outcome wasn't as expected for the Saudi higher education ministry," he said.

Nova Scotia's tuition is "much higher" than in provinces such as Quebec or Ontario, and "the universities there, the quality of their studies is much better," he said. 

Balfagih said Nova Scotia's government isn't supporting universities as well as in other provinces. "Most of the universities here are depending on the international students as a source of income," he said.

The changes will affect most Saudi students, but not those who got scholarships from work or other sources. 

Balfagih, for example, is teacher's assistant in Saudi Arabia and his employer sent him to Nova Scotia to further his education.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article wrongly said the International Language Institute had shut down. In fact, it remains open.
    Dec 23, 2015 7:16 PM AT