By Andrew Rankin
Only six universities in the country, located in Central and Western Canada, qualify for Saudi Arabia’s amended student scholarship program, says a group representing Atlantic Canadian universities.
Peter Halpin, executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities, said the Saudi Arabian government has chosen to send students only to the top 200 universities in the Academic Ranking of World Universities by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy.
The news comes a day after the association responded to the Saudi government’s decision to pull student scholarships for Atlantic Canadian universities, a move expected to drastically reduce enrolment numbers from the Middle Eastern country. The program, which exists in over 30 countries, covers student tuition and living expenses.
Currently, 1,167 Saudi students attend Nova Scotia universities.
“Our understanding is that a decision has been made by the Saudi Arabian government to in the future award King Abdullah Scholarship Programs to those students who are accepting and attending universities that are on the list,” said Halpin.
“But it’s important to put this into context. This applies to universities right across the country, not just in the Maritimes and Atlantic Canada.”
He said the university community is working on a strategy to respond to the altered scholarship program.
“All of our member universities are members of Universities Canada. Membership requires our universities to have strict criteria and to adhere to a set of principals of quality assurance that has to be reaffirmed every five years.
“That really enforces the recognition of Canadian universities around the world as a high academic achievement. It meets the approval of governments worldwide.”
David Wheeler, Cape Breton University president, said the move would have an enormous impact at the school. Just under 300 Saudi students attend the university now, and within a few years that could be reduced to zero, he said.
Hosam Alarabi, a Saudi Arabia native who completed his business degree at Cape Breton University last spring, agrees. Alarabi, a former student senator and class valedictorian, was a recipient of the scholarship.
He said it’s since been seriously overhauled.
“This means there will be a major decrease in Saudi students, especially at small universities,” said Alarabi, who now lives in Montreal.
Rather than being funded by the country’s Ministry of Education, he said the scholarship is being paid by companies and government agencies sponsoring individual students. The purpose, Alarabi said, is to ensure students return to Saudi Arabia. Sponsors are interested in sending students to only the best universities, and the ministry mainly facilitates the scholarship, he said.
“The new students that will arrive in Canada would be sponsored privately or by government. The top universities would be chosen for them.
“The King Abdullah Scholarship Program as it once was is over. It’s under the same name, but the policy is 100 per cent different.”
A spokesperson for the Saudi Cultural Bureau in Canada, which administers the scholarship program, couldn’t be reached Wednesday.