Kathleen Wynne calls male-only campuses in Saudi Arabia 'unacceptable'

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government is looking into the issue of two publicly funded Ontario colleges with campuses in Saudi Arabia that don't allow women.

Meeting sought with 2 publicly funded Ontario colleges, Niagara and Algonquin, on overseas operations

Part of Niagara College's Taif campus in Saudi Arabia where courses on tourism, hospitality and business are offered at the male-only school. (Niagara College)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says its "unacceptable" that two two publicly funded Ontario colleges have campuses in Saudi Arabia that don't allow women.

Ottawa's Algonquin College and Niagara College in Welland have offered programs at Saudi Arabia's segregated campuses for the past few years.

Wynne said Friday that she has told University and Colleges Minister Reza Moridi to meet with officials from the two colleges as soon as she found out about the situation, which she says has "got to change."

Initially, Moridi said decisions on the operation of a campus, including student composition, are up to each college's board of governors.

But late Thursday, following social media criticism about the male-only campuses, the minister said he had a change of heart about Ontario colleges teaching courses that deliberately exclude women and would meet with officials from the two schools immediately.

In a statement to The Canadian Press, Moridi said he understands and appreciates the concerns that have been raised in recent weeks, adding that he shares those concerns.

Niagara College offers tourism, hospitality and business courses at its campus in Taif, and Algonquin College offers 10 programs, including business, accounting and electrical engineering technology, at a campus in Jazan.

Niagara College's vice-president Sean Kennedy sent out a statement Thursday standing by the decision to open and operate a campus in Saudi Arabia, and added that there are some areas around the campus that are open to both men and women.

"The Taif campus was ... viewed as an opportunity for Niagara College to build on our reputation as a leader in hospitality and tourism education," wrote Kennedy.

"The campus that most aligned with our area of specialization was a campus in Taif where education is provided to males."

He notes that the college provides separate English training to women in the community.

He also said the college has had an eight-year partnership with the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh and Jeddah where it has taught its office administration program to 120 female and 40 male students.

Ottawa-based Algonquin College announced in 2013 that it hoped to have 2,000 students at its campus in Saudi Arabia and expected to generate annual revenues of more than $25 million.

The campus currently has 850 students and actual revenues have fallen short of original projections, with the school losing "close to $1 million" operating Jazan, a representative from the faculty's union told CBC News in December. 

The union representing academic staff at Algonquin has urged the school to cut ties with the Saudi Arabia campus following the country's Jan. 2 execution of 47 prisoners convicted on terrorism charges.

With files from CBC News


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