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Laurentian out as much as $3M as diplomatic fight sends 130 Saudi students back home

Middle East kingdom has given students three weeks to get out of Canada
About 130 Saudi students were expected to study at Laurentian University this fall. (File)

A diplomatic spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia is having an impact here in Sudbury.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada's ambassador, suspended diplomatic relations and slammed the door to new trade with Canada.

It has since recalled thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada (there were 8,310 in the last term), moved to transfer any Saudi patients out of Canadian hospitals and barred the import of Canadian wheat.

As of next week, the Saudi-owned airline will cease direct flights to and from Toronto and there is at least one report that the government has also ordered state-owned pension funds and banks to sell off the kingdom's Canadian assets.

All of these actions were taken in response to a tweet on Sunday from Global Affairs Canada that criticized the Saudis for the arrest of female social activists. contacted local educational and medical institutions to ask about the local impact of the situation with Saudi Arabia.

Here's what we found out: about 130 Saudi students were expected to attend Laurentian University in the fall, while a handful (less than 10) were expected at Cambrian College.

Officials say no Saudi students currently attend Collège Boréal's campuses across the province.

There are also no Saudi medical trainees or residents studying through the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. Health Sciences North also confirmed it is not treating any Saudi patients, nor hosting any medical residents who are Saudi nationals.

Among the Saudi students at Laurentian, about half are studying under Saudi state scholarships, with the other half privately funding their education, said university spokesperson Chris Mercer.

An associate vice-president with the university who has international students as part of his portfolio, Mercer said his department has heard from some affected students already.

They're saying they've received notification that they have three weeks to leave Canada.

These scholarship students are the “best of the best,” Mercer said, having competed most of their lives for the chance to study abroad, so this situation is very difficult for them.

“It's just tremendously stressful,” he said. “It's an anxious time. We're trying to be as supportive as we can for these young people. They're terrific students.”

According to national media reports, other universities say it's not just the scholarship students affected — those privately funding their education are being told to go home as well.

Mercer said Laurentian is planning for all of the scholarship students to leave, but there's no official word about the privately funded students.

“There are a lot more questions than answers right now, and that's the challenging part,” he said.

The Saudi students at Laurentian are all upper year or graduate students. That's because two years ago, Saudi Arabia reduced the number of Canadian universities to which it sends students, and Laurentian is no longer on the list.

The remaining students are enrolled in arts, science and engineering courses.

As for the financial impacts on Laurentian, those could be large. International students are charged higher tuition fees than their Canadian classmates, and are an important source of revenue for post-secondary schools.

“With 130 students that are paying roughly $24,000 each in tuition, you can do the math,” Mercer said. “You're looking at $2 to $3 million in annual revenue.”

Many of the Saudi students at Cambrian College are studying English as a second language, although one is in dental assisting, said Kristine Morrissey, vice-president, international, finance and administration at Cambrian College.

College officials have been reaching out to these students, but so far, they've been “very quiet,” she said.

“I would imagine that they're as confused and concerned as everyone is with the news,” Morrissey said.

“Cambrian is committed to working with the students, and as more information becomes available, we will take appropriate action and support the needs of our learners.”

-With files from Canadian Press


Heidi Ulrichsen

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