Algonquin College is studying the feasibility of opening a women-only campus in Saudi Arabia after coming under fire from faculty members and the premier of Ontario for operating a campus just for men.

Doug Wotherspoon, Algonquin College's vice-president of international and strategic priorities, said after a board meeting on Monday that the institution has previously made two unsuccessful applications to open a woman-only campus in Saudi Arabia.

"We've always had an interest in a female campus, really, to balance out and to provide opportunity to young Saudi men as well as women," he told CBC News.

Campuses in Saudi Arabia are segregated by gender by law.

In 2012, Algonquin College applied to open both a men's and women's campus in Saudi Arabia, but the government body that oversees international technical and vocational colleges in the country only approved the bid for the men's campus, Wotherspoon said.

Algonquin College began offering two-year diploma programs at a men-only college campus in the Saudi Arabian city of Jazan in 2013.

Wotherspoon said a second unsuccessful application was made to open a women's campus in 2014. He said Algonquin College plans to make a third application when the tender process begins, and that it is preparing for that with a feasibility study. 

Jazan campus lost $1M

Niagara College, based in Welland, Ont., also offers courses at a men-only campus in the Saudi Arabian city of Taif.

Faculty members at both colleges have previously criticized the ongoing operation of the Saudi Arabian campuses.

Protest against the Jazan campus reignited in December 2015, when financial statements showed Algonquin College had lost nearly $1 million operating it.

Claire Tortolo Algonquin

Claire Tortolo, an Algonquin College union steward and faculty member, says the college seems to be violating its own policy for equal opportunity to education for everyone. (CBC)

In January, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said it was "unacceptable" that two publicly funded Ontario colleges operate campuses that don't allow women.

Claire Tortolo, an Algonquin College union steward and faculty member, said Monday that opening a campus for women in Saudi Arabia is "to some extent" a countermeasure to the men-only campus. But the college seems to be violating its own policy for equal opportunity to education for everyone.

"If students have equal access to different types of education, then we're really bringing our values to Saudi Arabia. But if we separate them not by choice but, basically, by force into two different colleges where there's no interaction, then we're not really bring that level of equality that we're espousing ourselves," she said.

Wotherspoon said the Jazan campus was making a difference in Saudi Arabia, adding he hopes Algonquin College will soon be able to operate a campus for women.

"We completely respect individuals' concerns about human rights and, in fact, we share those concerns," he said. 

He added that Saudi Arabia's governing body for international colleges has a new chief executive officer and chief operating officer, "and we'll have to figure out what that all means to us."