36 Saudi Arabian students forced to leave University of New Brunswick

Thirty-six students at the University of New Brunswick must leave because of the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Canada over human rights.

Students, families are scrambling after spat between 2 countries brings deadline of Aug. 31 for leaving Canada

Robert MacKinnon, vice-president of UNB Saint John, said the university has been helping students transition to other universities and making sure they have the proper academic documents they need. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

Thirty-six students at the University of New Brunswick must leave because of the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Canada over human rights.

The students have been left scrambling to find new universities after being forced to withdraw from their studies and leave the country by Aug. 31.

Saudi Arabia announced earlier this month that it was ordering thousands of Saudi students leave Canadian universities.

As a result, the students have been left scrambling, forced to withdraw from their studies and leave the country by Aug. 31.

The flap between the two countries started two weeks ago, when Global Affairs Canada tweeted: "Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists."

The Saudi Foreign Ministry responded by ordering Canada's ambassador, Dennis Horak, to leave the country and described the use of the words "immediately release" in Canada's tweet "unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between states."

"Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada's internal affairs," the ministry said.

They contributed not just to the economy but to the culture of our campus communities. -Robert  MacKinnon , vice-president of  UNB's  Saint John campus

Robert MacKinnon, vice-president of UNB Saint John, was surprised by the announcement affecting Saudi students.

"It was a loss to our university, losing any students in this manner is always challenging and we certainly hope to get this situation resolved in the future," he said.

More than 7,500 Saudis are in Canada on long-term study visas — 22 of them are at UNB's Saint John campus and 14 at the Fredericton campus.  

For years, MacKinnon said, UNB has been promoting international enrolment and "diversifying [the] international student base on both UNB campuses.

Many international students come to Canada with their families. 

St. Thomas University in Fredericton, the University of Moncton, Mount Allison University in Sackville said they don't have any students from Saudi Arabia. 

A support to students

UNB said it has offered its 36 Saudi students help from student services and the registrar's office in their transition to other schools. The university is also doing degree audits to ensure students close to graduation will have those records with them when they leave.

"It certainly is an impact on these students and their families as they're getting out of leases and trying to make travel arrangements," he said.   

Faculty were shocked by news that 36 Saudi Arabian students at UNB Fredericton and Saint John will have to leave Canada and finish their studies elsewhere. (Submitted by UNB)

He said universities in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, among other countries, are also helping with transfer arrangements.

The students are looking at moving to universities similar to UNB, MacKinnon said. 

Some students at UNB would have been eligible to graduate as early as October.

"Students are concerned. It depends where they are in their program and how many courses they need to complete for their graduation requirements," he said.

"That will have an impact on how long it's going to take them to complete at other universities."  

A financial hit to the region

MacKinnon said UNB is still assessing the financial hit after the students leave — something that will felt over the next few years.

Tuition at UNB is about $6,700, and a student from Saudi Arabia would pay about double that amount. That cost doesn't include living expenses. 

"The impact on the overall economy will be much larger in terms of living expenses," MacKinnon said.

"It's a big impact on the region."

He said he's still hopeful Saudi Arabian students will be able to resume studying in New Brunswick soon.

"They contributed not just to the economy but to the culture of our campus communities," he said.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton