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Ontario schools’ satellite campuses don’t respect employment and education values

Recently political figures and faculty associations have expressed concerns about Algonquin College and Niagara College’s satellite campuses located in Jazan and Taif, Saudi Arabia, respectively. While these institutions were established years ago, it seems the media has only recently caught on to the flaws in these extension projects—which are, without a doubt, significant.

Extending Canadian education abroad itself isn’t the point of concern, the issue lies in the fact that Saudi Arabia operates its schools under a system of gender segregation. Ontario colleges that choose to open a campus there can only cater to one gender, a situation that quickly becomes problematic.

For starters, both international campuses are publicly funded. With Canadian tax dollars at play, these ventures should align to some degree with Canada’s core values since they represent our country abroad. While women can in fact attend university in Saudi Arabia, the Niagara and Algonquin institutions deny women access as both students and employees.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states in Section 15(1) that “every individual has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination,” and the government page goes on to say that governments must not discriminate in its programs. The Ontario Human Rights Code part 1, section 5(1), states that “Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination.”

These fundamental rights to equal education and employment opportunity form the core of Canadian identity, and Algonquin and Niagara are obligated to represent that identity abroad—especially while using Canadian tax dollars.

In an article released by Bloomberg in August 2015 it was reported that, while the employment rates have improved, “women make up only 16.4 percent of Saudis with jobs and account for 60.3 percent of the unemployed.” As the segregation practices in Saudi Arabia apply to the hiring of professors, inherently making Algonquin and Niagara unequal opportunity employers, these investments contribute to this trend.

Despite remarks from Cheryl Jensen, the president of Algonquin Jazan, that the organization will be doing their part to “change cultures in different countries,” Saudi Arabia does have the right to express their national identity as they choose. Canadian educational institutions should have this same right upon going international, and should make some accommodations as to not infringe upon the expression of the foreign culture.

But when these accommodations directly contradict Canada’s basic rights and freedoms, a line must be drawn. With the operations of these Saudi institutions, our country has crossed the boundary of what is acceptable by our human rights standards at home.

Simply getting down to the bottom line of Algonquin’s investment in Saudi Arabia brings more cause for concern. The CBC reported in December that “Algonquin College has lost close to $1 million… according to its financial statements.” According to an article in the Toronto Star, “Algonquin College announced in 2013 that it hoped to have 2,000 students at its campus in Saudi Arabia and expected to generate annual revenues of more than $25 million.”

Questionable financial forecasting aside, these Saudi institutions deny prospective students the very rights we enjoy on this campus and, based on the recent uproar, it’s not sitting very well with Canadians. While the identity of foreign cultures must be respected, as taxpayers we are not required to economically support a system that doesn’t respect the human rights we demand at home.