B.C. schools will weather loss of Saudi students: officials

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Education officials in B.C. are cautiously optimistic that the diplomatic spat between Ottawa and Saudi Arabia, in which Riyadh recalled its students from Canadian schools, will not significantly hurt the local sector.

The dispute came after Canada criticized Saudi authorities for the jailing of women’s rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah earlier this month, spurring Riyadh to expel the Canadian ambassador and reportedly give Saudi students in Canada four weeks to leave.

In a statement, University of British Columbia (UBC) president Santa Ono said there are 280 students with Saudi citizenship at the school, 80% of whom are sponsored by the country’s cultural bureau.

Ono said the school is doing all it can to assist students who have been ordered to leave. Other schools in Canada have noted that some professors are trying to condense courses to help students finish their studies prior to departure.

“This is a difficult time for all of our Saudi Arabian students, academics and their families,” Ono said. “Our hope is that the dispute can be resolved to allow our students to continue their studies at UBC and to remain an important part of our community.”

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, there are about 8,000 Saudi students in Canadian post-secondary schools. About 1,600 are in B.C.

In an email statement, BC Council for International Education executive director Randall Martin said he is hopeful the provincial education sector will not be heavily affected.

“We have only about 2,450 Saudi students in B.C., mostly on scholarships,” Martin said of the overall number of students, including those beyond post-secondary institutions. “So in a population of over 150,000, I don’t think the actual numbers will be hard to replace.”

Outside of the education sector, there are also reports that Saudi Arabia is looking to sell off stakes in Canadian holdings because of the dispute.