By Steven Chmielash

Steven Chmielash Photo
‘We’re not doing business in Saudi Arabia. We’re an educational institution and we’re changing people’s lives,” said Kent MacDonald during the International Education Strategic Plan at Algonquin on Nov. 8.

Faculty and staff raised several questions about Algonquin’s overseas intentions, specifically the new campus in Saudi Arabia, during the presentation of the International Education Strategic Plan on Nov. 8.

Concern centered around human rights, political instability and the criteria rubric that the college followed before opening the school in Jazan.

A presentation of the college’s International Strategic Plan advocated the Saudi Arabian campus as an opportunity to bring Algonquin closer to companies that are stationed there and a learning opportunity for both sides as well.

But a recent article written by Jack Wilson, police and public safety institute professor, in the faculty union newsletter, Local Lines, said the college’s involvement there is wrong.  “Jazan citizens in south-western Saudi Arabia were treated to a gruesome sight. Dangling from a crane in full public view and across from the campus of the University of Jazan were headless bodies of five Yemeni nationals,” he wrote.

Wilson attended the Nov. 8 meeting to raise the question again: why did we open the Jazan campus when all these atrocities are happening so close to the college?

In addition to his attendance and article, Wilson issued a press release, on Nov. 18, calling on the Ontario government to intervene.

But college officials defended the college’s involvement there.

“It is a question that does not have a black or white answer,” said Claude Brule, vice-president of academic. “We have enviable human rights in Canada. We want to be able to use our influence when we deal with other partners in order to have that opportunity to create change.”

Before establishing a campus or program overseas, several factors come into play, he explained.

“We balance this in every decision we make against the needs of our host, our partner, what they wish to accomplish and we analyze where they’re at on that spectrum and make those decisions,” said Brule. “And we consult as well with our partners here in Ontario, the provincial government, federally and make sure that we are aligned in those relationships.”

International studies are something that Algonquin will continue to pursue. As it stands now, there are 117 countries represented at the college alone.

Students from around the world come to study at Algonquin. Ontario has become the lead intake engine with international students and, more specifically, colleges are also becoming a real player in the post-secondary sphere, he noted.

In fact, the college’s 2012-17 strategic plan advocates focusing on onshore and offshore international products and partnerships, processes and knowledge. It will do so by “…developing scalable academic, financial and risk management models.”

Since numerous offshore programs are already being taught in partnership with Algonquin, reviews will be conducted to ensure that the programs and their courses are being taught according to the college’s standards.

“This is going to become a yearly activity…where we have to go to complete program quality reviews,” said Ernest Mulvey, director of the International Education Centre at Algonquin. “And as we do it, we’re learning lessons on how to do it better and how to work with our partners to ensure the programs are delivered in a manner we’re happy with.”

This strategic plan aligns with the college’s goals of increasing full-time enrolment from 976 to 1,400 international students, excluding English as a second language programs. The other goal is to grow international-related revenue from $14.4 million to $20.9 million, by 2017.

As the question and answer period concluded, Algonquin president Kent MacDonald stood up at the podium one last time to allay people’s concerns. MacDonald went to Saudi Arabia before he signed off on the new campus.

“It’s different. It’s different than what it’s like in Canada but I would ask you to consider us when people ask, ‘Why are we doing business in Saudi Arabia?’” said MacDonald. “My comment is, ‘We’re not doing business in Saudi Arabia. We’re an educational institution and we’re changing people’s lives.’”

He acknowledged the human rights implications raised by Wilson and others, but said that the country’s record is improving.

“There are issues. But I’m convinced that through education that we could shift that country the same as we’ve seen in other countries we’ve done work with.”

The draft study also advocates offshore agreements in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America and the Caribbean.

It also maps out recruiting more “onshore” students to Algonquin from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America- primarily the United States, and finally Latin America and the Caribbean.