Algonquin College pulling out of men-only Saudi Arabia campus

Algonquin College has announced that its board of governors has directed senior management to transfer the responsibility of its controversial men-only campus in Saudi Arabia back to authorities in that country.

Controversial campus opened in the city of Jazan in 2013

Unlike Algonquin College's Ottawa campus, women were not permitted to study at the campus that opened in Saudi Arabia in 2013. (CBC)

After just three years, Algonquin College is pulling out of Saudi Arabia.

The college announced in a news release that its board of governors has directed senior management to transfer the responsibility of Algonquin College Saudi Arabia back to authorities in that country.

The campus opened in the city of Jazan in 2013, where it offered two-year diploma programs only to men. Algonquin came under fire here at home for operating the men-only campus, and tried unsuccessfully to open a facility for women in Saudi Arabia.

But according to the release, the reason for transferring the campus back to Saudi Arabia's Colleges of Excellence is financial. The school has lost $1.6 million, according to the college.

"After more than a year of negotiation, we were unable to come to an agreement that would have met our financial objectives," Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen is quoted as saying. "We have said from the beginning that the Jazan Campus must be financially viable for us to continue operating."

The technical school had 850 students when it opened, but many struggled at the English-language institution. The initial drop out rate was 90 per cent.

"We've implemented the most challenging academic curriculum to the least prepared students in the country and that has led to us not being profitable," said Doug Wotherspoon, the college's vice-president of international and strategic planning.

Transfer will cost millions

The move is being announced now to give Saudi officials time to complete the transfer before students begin the fall term on Sept. 18, according to the release.

Algonquin College estimates the transfer will cost about $4.3 million, which will come out of reserve funds and won't cost taxpayers here anything.

"Certainly we're going to do everything that we can to ensure our losses are kept at a minimum. We've done that from the beginning," Wotherspoon said.

​He said international operations at the college are not funded by the provincial government and any shortfalls will be covered by other operations that are not funding by the province.

There will be no implications for Algonquin College's employees and operations here in Canada, according to Wotherspoon.

'They didn't do their homework'

Academic staff denounced the college's foray into Saudi Arabia, citing the country's use of public executions and other human rights abuses.

The faculty union (OPSEU 415) described the kingdom's treatment of women as "gender apartheid."

Professor Jack Wilson, the first-vice-president of the faculty union, has been a longtime critic of Algonquin's Saudi Arabia campus. (CBC)
Professor Jack Wilson said while the faculty union applauds the college for leaving Saudi Arabia, the financial justifications are the wrong reasons.

"I think they thought it was low-hanging fruit," Wilson said.

"Clearly, they didn't do their homework. They thought they were getting into a place of easy profits and they didn't think people were concerned about human rights."