Ontario Colleges in Saudi Arabia: Women Need Not Apply

Algonquin and Niagara under pressure for running men-only campuses out of Saudi Arabia.

By Leah Ching, Staff Writer

Saudi Arabia School. PC: GACAMC/Flickr.

Saudi Arabia School. PC: GACAMC/Flickr.

Two colleges in Ontario are coming under media fire for their operation of Saudi Arabia based campuses that only admit males. The two publicly funded Canadian colleges, Algonquin and Niagara, have recently been spoken out against by Ontario’s minister of post-secondary education, Reza Moridi, for the opening up of campuses that don’t admit women.

Decisions to open up and operate a campus, and decisions on composing the student body are up to each individual college’s board of governors, but there are serious concerns being raised in the media and by social justice and human rights groups about what the operation of these campuses mean for Canada’s image abroad, and the values that Canada supports. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has been an outspoken critic of these colleges, calling it “unacceptable” that local colleges operate chapters that forbid entry to female students. Reza Moridi has stated that he plans to meet with both colleges and talk to all community colleges about the programs they deliver outside of Ontario.

Niagara College offers tourism, hospitality, and business courses at its campus in Taif and Algonquin College offers a series of programs including business, accounting, and electrical engineering in the city of Jazan. Toronto based Centennial College has operated a corporate training program but last week announced that it would not renew their apprenticeship training contract when it lapses later this year following the wave of criticism on social media and through major news outlets.

Centennial said it “did not — and would never” bar women from entering the program, but eligibility was determined by employers in the region. The ban on female enrollment on these campuses comes because all education in Saudi Arabia operates under Sharia law, prohibiting the teaching of men and women in the same classes.

Algonquin is getting $103 million for the fiscal year and Niagara College $45 million from provincial funding. To many, it is incredibly alarming that publicly funded Canadian universities (through opening and funding these schools in a nation that is well known for serious human rights violations and repressive law), continue to perpetuate a system of patriarchal dominance abroad in which women are barred directly from equality with their male peers.

The Ontario Public Sector Employees Union called the establishment of Canadian campuses in the nation an “endorsement of discrimination against women,” a sentiment echoed by many dissenters.

This controversy follows another as the federal government is facing pressure to kill a deal made by the previous Conservative administration that was made in February of 2014. The Harper government signed the longest weapons contract in Canada’s history, a fourteen-year contract for military and commercial vehicles, a multi-billion-dollar contract that hinges on the sale of military equipment.

Canada’s relation with Saudi Arabia is not met without opposition. The selling of arms to tyrannical regimes like Saudi Arabia and the opening of schools that support a regime based on patriarchal oppression is seen by many media outlets, journalists, and members for the public as putting profit over human rights.

An Algonquin College official has been chastised for quoting Nelson Mandela in explaining and rationalizing the operation of their Saudi based chapter by saying, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

The connection between Nelson Mandela, human rights champion, and the university that operates a men’s only technical college under one of the most repressive regimes on earth is questionable at best. Especially so in a week where Saudi Arabia has provoked international outrage by executing 47 people in one day. The question remains to be asked: how is Algonquin College, along with its Niagara counterpart, putting forth any sustained efforts to change the repressive and tyrannical nation in which their colleges operate?


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