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Lessons from Jazan

The failure in Jazan not only shows a lack of accountability in the upper command of the college, but also reflects a larger societal issue – the elites of our society can gamble with the public’s money and no matter the outcome, they always win.

Despite the college losing (six million dollars) $6 million on a bad investment in a country run by a dictatorial regime, not one person was fired, suspended or even publicly reprimanded. Those who set up the deal will still receive their annual six figure salaries or their nice pensions, so what difference does it make to them? The real losers of this debacle are the students who attend and pay for their education at Algonquin College.

Six million dollars could have improved the infrastructure on all three campuses. The college’s equipment in many programs is lacking, and even a fraction of that money could have drastically improved the situation.

Saudi Arabia is one of, if not the greatest, abuser of human rights in the world. It is a country where atheists are killed for their lack of belief, where homosexuals are executed in town squares, and where women must be accompanied by men outside of the home. For the last year, Saudi Arabia has been bombing civilians in Yemen and despite all of this, the college thought it was a good idea to set up a campus in that country.

Back in 2013, the college said that campus would generate up to $25 million (dollars) a year in revenue. The early defense from critics was that we needed an engagement policy in Saudi Arabia; that we can create the change in the world we want to see. Did they think opening college campuses caused the fall of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union? Of course not, but it was a good cover for the real reason we were there: money!

Fast forward to 2016: $2 million down the drain and a 90 per cent dropout rate at the Jazan campus. The response from the college was that we didn’t meet our financial projections so we are pulling out. In the end the truth surfaced.

The college reassured us that it was just reserve funds that were spent in Jazan so tax money was not lost. So where did these reserve funds come from? Did they spring out into existence and magically appear in Saudi Arabia? “International and ancillary contingency reserve funds,” was the explanation given. In English that means money that was put away for a rainy day, a day that did not need to happen.

This ordeal highlights a fundamental flaw in the thinking of the people who run our institutions; that education is a business and all that matters is the bottom line. The public disagrees and many voices warned the college, but it fell on deaf ears. All they saw were dollar signs and big profit. Karma sucks, doesn’t it?

It has been made clear that opening a campus on foreign soil is a bad idea, but this should not stop us from helping to raise the levels of education within the developing world. We as Canadians should do what we do best– take the support and aid role. We can have more comprehensive exchange programs, advisory envoys, volunteer abroad for credit programs and virtual classroom sharing with foreign students. There are many ways we can reach out to aid other countries, but we cannot do it for purely financial reasons.

Next time, let’s actually follow our values, not the money.


  • Peter Biesterfeld

    Solid observations, cautions and recommendations in this piece. Zero accountability leaves a huge hole in the Saudi adventure indeed and the follow our values instead of the money advice should leave some shameful egg on the faces of senior managers from the president on down.


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