As It Happens

Algonquin College under fire for male-only campus in Saudi Arabia

Claire Tortolo, a language studies teacher at Algonquin College, speaks out against the school's decision to open a male-only campus in Saudi Arabia.
Algonquin College in Ottawa on Jan. 6, 2016. (CBC Ottawa)

Two Ontario schools — Algonquin College and Niagara College — have come under scrutiny this week for their male-only campuses in Saudi Arabia. It comes amidst growing concerns about the country's human-rights record, following the execution of 47 people earlier this month.

"I'm not confident that Saudi Arabia is the best place for us to be investing ourselves as a college," Claire Tortolo tells As it Happens host Carol Off. "We know that it has an oppressive, authoritarian government."

Tortolo teaches English as a second language at Algonquin College. She's also a steward for the faculty union.

"I find it conflicting that the college would want to open a campus that serves male students only and employs males only. At the college where I work, we are equal in our treatment of genders."

Claire Tortolo is a steward for the faculty union at Algonquin College. (Claire Tortolo)

The Jazan campus opened in 2013. It was branded as a significant financial opportunity for Algonquin College.

"We know the government in Ontario hasn't been as forthcoming with funding as the colleges would hope in the last years," says Tortolo. "Overseas international relationships are a part of what colleges are looking at as a way of adjusting that."

Since opening, there has been significant backlash surrounding the campus. Last December, it was reported that Algonquin College had lost more than $1-million operating their campus in Saudi Arabia.   

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has called Algonquin College and Niagara College's male-only campuses "unacceptable." The Ontario government is planning on meeting with officials from both schools. 

"We'd like to see the Ontario government look very carefully at this and decide whether this is the face of Ontario that they want to be presenting and whether these are the best actions for our colleges," says Tortolo.  

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