Nfld. & Labrador

MUN concerned about 'vulnerable' students, as Saudi gov't announces plans to withdraw

Saudi Arabia has announced plans to withdraw all Saudi students being sponsored in Canadian universities, colleges and other schools.

23 Saudi students are enrolled at MUN for the fall, and 16 are graduate students

Memorial University says most of the Saudi Arabian students enrolled for the fall semester are in graduate programs. (CBC)

Memorial University of Newfoundland is waiting for clear direction on the future of nearly two dozen Saudi Arabian students enrolled in programs there.

The Saudi Arabian government has announced plans to withdraw all Saudi students being sponsored in Canadian universities, colleges and other schools. 

MUN has 23 Saudi students enrolled for the fall semester. Of those, 16 are graduate students.

"So far, Memorial has not been contacted by either the Saudi or the Canadian governments, but we anticipate this will occur," said David Sorensen, the manager of communications for Memorial University, in a statement emailed to CBC News. 

"Saudi students on the St. John's campus have alerted us they are receiving notices from the Saudi staff in Ottawa to return home as soon as the spring semester is over (generally mid-August)."

The decision to remove Saudi students from Canada comes following tweets by foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland and the Canadian official foreign policy account. 

"The government of Saudi Arabia determined that these were an assault on its sovereignty," Sorensen said.

A lot on the line

"A lot of time, money and effort go into planning for your graduate studies," said Rizza Umali, director of external affairs for Memorial's Graduate Students Union. 

"We would like to extend our support to these students."

Rizza Umali is on the executive of the graduate students union at Memorial University. (CBC)

Umali said the situation highlights the vulnerability of international students.

"Not only do we pay 4.5 times the tuition of our domestic counterparts but we, also, our status in this country is very precarious and can change just at the drop of a hat."

Sorensen said there is a lot on the line for the students affected by the Saudi decision.

"Students who have received outreach messages from the Saudi diplomatic staff have reached out to the Internationalization Office (IO) asking for advice. The IO is working with impacted students on a case-by-case basis," he wrote. 

"Memorial is doing what it can to support all Saudi students as we await clear directions from the Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau (SACB), the branch of the Saudi government that supports Saudi students in Canada."

Saudi students may have to find new schools to finish their programs this fall. (CBC)

New information is becoming available by the hour, said Sorensen who added that schools across the country are working together to figure out the best possible way to help their affected students. 

"Memorial University is very concerned about how vulnerable the Saudi students are at the moment — worried for their own careers and futures, and trying to figure out how to comply with their own government directives," he said. 

"We will continue to do what we can to support them."

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