Over 150 Sask. students could be affected by Saudi dispute

By CJME News Staff
August 7, 2018 - 4:51pm

There’s a lot of uncertainty for Saudi Arabian students after their country decided to suspend government scholarships for studying in Canada.

A state-run news organization is reporting the kingdom is cutting off scholarship and fellowship programs to about 15,000 students currently taking classes in Canada.

It’s just one of the measures taken by the kingdom in a diplomatic dust-up triggered by Ottawa’s criticism of detentions of human rights activists in the Middle Eastern nation.

“We’re a little bit surprised by this sudden decision,” said Associate Vice-President Livia Castellanos with University of Regina’s international program.

The suspension of scholarships could affect the more than 150 Saudi Arabian students currently studying in Regina. While the university hasn’t received an official notification from Saudi Arabia, Castellanos has learned from some students they have been asked to leave Canada within one month.

“I think they are concerned because they are uncertain. They don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to them,” Castellanos said.

She noted most of the Saudi students are not here short-term. They have built a network of friends and settled in Regina to pursue a multi-year degree. They might study English in their first year, then begin a Masters degree or PhD.

“They have a life here that they are going to leave and they are being taken away from,” she said.

Castellanos added the decision by Saudi Arabia is also a hit to the university’s diversity, calling the Saudi students very important cohorts of the U of R.

U OF S ATTEMPTING TO CONTACT STUDENTS

The University of Saskatchewan is also trying to figure out what’s going to happen with their Saudi Arabian students.

Vice Provost Patti McDougall said in an interview Tuesday only nine students from the kingdom are registered for classes in 2018-19, but they suspect the number who were planning to return was much higher.

She noted 26 Saudi nationals attended the university in the last academic year, and some may not have registered yet.

“We’re reaching out … to identify their circumstances, what their needs are, whether they have families with them,” she said.

She noted it’s unclear how many of the students are impacted by the Saudi government’s decision to axe their scholarships, but there are options available to help them stay.

“We’ll be looking at scholarships, bursaries … whether there are any opportunities for grants,” McDougall said, adding they could look at employment opportunities at the university — a tactic used in the past.

Ultimately, both universities stressed there were too few details to determine exactly what course of action could be taken next.

With files from 980 CJME’s Adriana Christianson and 650 CKOM’s Chris Vandenbreekel.

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