Potential loss of Saudi Arabian students to have 'negligible' impact on UNBC bottom line

The impact on University of Northern British Columbia will be more cultural than financial if Saudi Arabia makes good on a vow to recall students attending Canadian universities, according to president Daniel Weeks.

Just 22 students from the country were enrolled at UNBC this past year, amounting to less than 10 per cent of all international students attending the university. The loss will have a "negligible impact on our bottom line," Weeks said Tuesday.

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Where it would be felt is on delivering the cultural exposure domestic students should get when attending university.

"Particularly in smaller and rural institutions where many of our Canadian students don't necessarily have the opportunities of living in a large urban centre where they would be exposed to many different types of cultural experiences, it's even more important for us that we bring that kind of diversity to our campus," Weeks said.

International students pay 3 1/2 times the amount domestic students do to attend UNBC, which Weeks said is about middle of the pack among Canadian universities. Students from foreign countries are charged the higher amount because universities are not subsidized to host them like they are Canadian students.

Weeks said students from out of country are drawn to UNBC because it is a highly-ranked institution located in a safe community with a reasonable cost of living.

Over the weekend Saudi Arabia declared the recall as well as a freeze on new trade with Canada following a tweet last week from Global Affairs Canada that expressed concerns about the arrest of activists in the kingdom. Saudi students in Canadian universities have been given four weeks to pack their bags and leave the country, two senior university officials said Tuesday.

Weeks called the development "unfortunate" and added university presidents from across Canada will gather via a conference call later this week to get a better sense of what the possible impact will be.

Either way, he said UNBC has never been in it as a way to balance its budget.

"Events like this are going to happen from time to time, internationally," Weeks said. "You have to have a policy, as we do at UNBC, where yes, we want international students but we're never going to put our budget in jeopardy at all - the students are here to enrich their lives and help us enrich our lives."

College of New Caledonia information officer Dustin Ruth said CNC currently does not have any students from Saudi Arabia and was not expecting any from the country for the upcoming semester.

The dispute ostensibly arose because of a tweet issued by Global Affairs Canada decrying the arrest and detention of two female bloggers and activists.

"Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi,'' the tweet said. "We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists.''

The Saudi Foreign Ministry took exception to the use of the term "immediately release," calling it "unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between states.''

"Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada's internal affairs,'' the Saudi government said.

Amnesty International has said Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, was recently detained along with Nassima al-Sada, another prominent female activist.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland stood by Canada's position on Monday, saying Canadians expect their government's foreign policy to be guided by their values.

"We are always going to speak up for human rights, we are always going to speak up for women's rights and that is not going to change,'' Freeland said in Vancouver.

Also on Tuesday, the Middle Eastern country's state airline announced it was suspending operations in Canada.

- with files from The Canadian Press

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