Saturday , July 2 2022

Thousands of Saudi students stay in Canada, despite Riyadh's promise to get rid of scholarships


Thousands of university students from Saudi Arabia are staying in Canada despite being ordered from the country by their government last August, but planning is underway to mitigate the impact on Canadian universities when the students t those graduating and not being replaced.

The decision was the result of a diplomatic crisis which erupted when the Canadian government encouraged the Saudi authorities publicly to release women's rights activists imprisoned. The Saudi government responded by remembering its ambassador, abolishing the Canadian ambassador, preventing some trade and investment, and canceling his scholarship program.

The King Abdullah Scholarship program includes training and living costs for Saudi students at universities around the world. When they finish their studies, graduates are expected to return to Saudi Arabia to help fill gaps in the labor market.

Data from Canada's Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship shows that, from December 2018, when universities report publicly about their registration, 5,100 Saudi students are studying at Canadian universities, compared with 7,620 in December 2017, before the diplomatic dispute.

Paul Davidson, president and CEO of Canadian Universities, said that many of the Saudi students, mostly medical students, graduate students and those nearing the end of their studies, had stayed and retain their scholarships.

"Over the following weeks, through a very effective dialogue, we had the opportunity to ensure that the worst did not happen," he said.

In addition, students can continue to study in Canada if they have the ability to fund their own education and the appropriate study visas.

Dalhousie University had 223 Saudi students in 2018 and 115 at the beginning of this year. (Eric Woolliscroft / CBC)

Many Saudi students say they are afraid to speak publicly about their experiences in case what their government could do to their families back home.

Saudi students speak

One Saudi student, who spoke about the state of anonymity, said that the last nine months had been the hardest of my life. He is now paying his own way.

"We've broken it, and we used everything we have, everything saved, everything we could borrow from friends… It was very mad," he said, stating high university fees for international students.

He said that the Saudi scholarship program had previously provided $ 2,700 per student per month as well as training and all other school fees, plus an additional $ 1,600 per month if the student's partner also came to Canada and more if they had children.

He said that many of his friends had transferred to schools in Australia and New Zealand, but their credits were not always transferable and some were forced to start in the first year.

He said that those who returned to Saudi Arabia had been questioned at the airport.

"If they find anything, they could put them in prison," he said.

The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in the capital Saudi Riyadh on October 23, 2018. Human rights groups say that Salman's bin has intensified campaigns against anyone; n criticizing Saudi's policies. (Fayez Nureldine / AFP / Getty Images)

Another Saudi student, who we also know, is still in Canada but has not been able to continue studying. Since then she has gained refugee status, with hopes of being able to work and eventually saving enough money to return to university. He said his safety would be at risk if he returned to Saudi Arabia after being critical of the Kingdom.

"The people are really sorry and they're real terrorists in the world," he said of the Saudi Crown, Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman.

Impact on Canadian education and healthcare

The cancellation of the scholarship program caused chaos and anxiety to many Canadian universities.

The University of Mount Saint Vincent in Nova Scotia estimates that most unexpected deviation of Saudi sponsored students has resulted in a loss of $ 900,000 in the forecast revenue. St Mary's University in Halifax estimates a loss of $ 740,000 in training alone.

Students ask for photos on a graduation day at Mount Saint Vincent Halifax University. The Mount estimates that the unplanned departure of Saudi's sponsored students has resulted in a loss of $ 900,000 in the forecast revenue. (Eric Woolliscroft / CBC)

Universities such as McGill and Dalhousie, which have medical schools, have had less impact. McGill had 310 Saudi students last year and had 277 people in January 2019. Dalhousie had 223 Saudi students in 2018 and 115 at the start of this year.

Open vulnerability

Dr. Mark Taylor, vice president of medicine for Nova Scotia Health Authority, oversees the provincial program for medical residents. He said that although the impact of Saudi's decision was not as significant as originally thought, it highlighted the vulnerability of the program.

"Initially we were going to lose all of them suddenly and that would have been catastrophic because we would have had to scramble to find some way of providing our patients with the ongoing care we need," he said. Taylor.

The Saudi government is not expected to sponsor any new students in Canada when current students complete their programs.

Paul-Émile Cloutier, president and CEO of HealthcareCAN, who paid itself as the national voice of healthcare organizations and hospitals across Canada, said if Saudi's medical trainees had quickly withdrawn, there would be a "impact". great "on stays. specialist care, as there is a shortage of acute healthcare staff across the country.

Mitigate the impact

Taylor said that Nova Scotia has added six provincial funded sites to Canadian residents and a further six will be added each year. In addition, the health authority is exploring getting other providers such as nurse practitioners and clinical assistants to help fill the role of residents.

Davidson called for Saudi to “wake up” and urged universities to diversify.

"We live in a disruptive world at the moment, so we want as many countries as possible of students," he said.

Even before the scholarship program was canceled, the number of Saudi students in Canada had been declining since its peak of 14,155 in 2011.

The 2019 federal budget pledged $ 148 million over five years towards a new International Education Strategy.

In a statement, Global Affairs Canada spokesman Sylvain Leclerc said: "Canada welcomes Saudi's contribution to the education and healthcare sector and we hope that many will continue to choose to study at Canadian universities."

A Saudi WBQ student said that she was unable to continue with a full course load because she cannot afford the fees.

"It's a political issue," he said about Saudi's government decision to stop scholarships. "Don't include students and people trying to study and make a living. We don't have to do it all."

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