What on Earth are two Ontario colleges doing operating men-only campuses in Saudi Arabia?
This goes back to 2013-14, when Ottawa’s Algonquin College and Niagara College signed deals to set up operations as part of the kingdom’s “colleges of excellence” program.
Algonquin College opened a campus in the southern city of Jazan, offering a range of courses from business to engineering. Niagara College opened a facility in the city of Taif, focusing on tourism and hospitality.
The wrinkle is that both are male-only. Courses are not offered to women, and Ontario’s minister responsible for colleges has been fine with that. Reza Moridi told the Canadian Press this week that it’s all up to the individual colleges and he’s “proud” of the work they do around the world.
He shouldn’t be, at least not in this case. Ontario’s publicly supported colleges have no business entering into arrangements that violate our most basic values.
Aside from the fundamental principle of equality between men and women, education is actually one area where there has been welcome progress in Saudi Arabia. A majority of university graduates there are in fact women, and many thousands more Saudi women are educated abroad. (The big problem comes when they look for jobs, but that’s another story.)
In that context, Canadian colleges should not enter into arrangements that bar women from their courses. Moridi himself, after public attention was focused on the set-ups in Saudi Arabia, quickly changed his tune and now says he “shares those concerns” about Ontario colleges running male-only campuses. And Premier Kathleen Wynne says the situation is unacceptable and has “got to change.”
To make things even worse, the deals haven’t brought the promised financial benefits, at least in the case of Algonquin College. It lost more than $900,000 in its first year in Saudi Arabia, and has downgraded the expected profits from $19.9 million to just $4.4 million over five years.
Not much money and a betrayal of values. Wynne is right: these are deals that don’t serve the people of Ontario – not to mention the women of Saudi Arabia.