March 18, 2019

Winnipeg
0° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Canada-Saudi spat threatened to cost U of M millions

OTTAWA — The University of Manitoba almost lost $2.7 million as a result of Canada’s spat last summer with Saudi Arabia, the Free Press has learned.

Documents obtained through a freedom-of-information request show how the province’s largest university dealt with a series of conflicting messages from Saudi Arabia and tried supporting 50 students from the country, whose government was asking them to suddenly return home.

In August 2018, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador and ceased all new trade, after the federal Liberals called on the kingdom to release imprisoned women’s rights activists.

U of M responded within 24 hours of news breaking that Saudi Arabia would also suspend its scholarships for students in Canada, and had asked all of them to either return or pursue studies elsewhere within a month.

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 30 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Join free for 30 days

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 30 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

OTTAWA — The University of Manitoba almost lost $2.7 million as a result of Canada’s spat last summer with Saudi Arabia, the Free Press has learned.

Documents obtained through a freedom-of-information request show how the province’s largest university dealt with a series of conflicting messages from Saudi Arabia and tried supporting 50 students from the country, whose government was asking them to suddenly return home.

Dr Brian Postl, Dean, College of Medicine.

Dr Brian Postl, Dean, College of Medicine.

In August 2018, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador and ceased all new trade, after the federal Liberals called on the kingdom to release imprisoned women’s rights activists.

U of M responded within 24 hours of news breaking that Saudi Arabia would also suspend its scholarships for students in Canada, and had asked all of them to either return or pursue studies elsewhere within a month.

In an Aug. 7 memo, dean of medicine Brian Postl asked department heads to find contingency plans for filling medical shifts scheduled for 20 Saudi residents and fellows, and to "plan accordingly for rate financial impact of their departure."

Within days, U of M staff asked students to update them on what information their Ottawa embassy was giving, and to avoid "drastic changes" such as breaking a lease or selling a car. They offered to "stop the clock" for graduate students, halting any new fees or penalties for missed classes.

The medical program offered to find any possible ways students nearing the end of their program could write final exams or complete required hours abroad.

Four days after the announcement, staff were still grappling with mixed information from the Saudis.

"The situation is fluid and it is still unclear whether the directive applies to all Saudi students, or only students receiving funding," enrollment head Jeff Adams wrote Aug. 10.

Medical students read the Hippocratic Oath at a White Coat Ceremony at the University of Manitoba. Brian Postl, the university's dean of medicine asked department heads to find contingency plans for filling medical shifts scheduled for 20 Saudi residents and fellows.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Medical students read the Hippocratic Oath at a White Coat Ceremony at the University of Manitoba. Brian Postl, the university's dean of medicine asked department heads to find contingency plans for filling medical shifts scheduled for 20 Saudi residents and fellows.

In a conference call that day, senior U of M staff noted Saudi students were told three separate departure dates to prepare for, and some were told they'd be placed at an American university.

An administrative note warned pulling out so many students would impact how the faculty operates for remaining students, with "programs relying on (medical) residents."

By that point, U of M staff were in touch with the bodies for Canada’s large universities, as well as International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr.

A week after the Saudi announcement, International Centre head Susie Taylor wrote to the students, encouraging them to seek counselling, and speak with advisors about how to transfer credits.

"We understand this is a stressful situation for you," she wrote.

By Aug. 16, U of M had decided to waive transcript fees for Saudi students owing less than $1,000 to the university. The university also decided to waive fees "on a case-by-case basis," but asked staff not to tell students this was an option.

'As part of prudent planning, the university calculated potential costs were all Saudi students to cease their studies. In the end, that did not happen and, in fact, there was no financial loss' – John Danakas

A finance manager noted some Saudi students had cancelled their enrollment for fall 2018.

"We are now seeing students coming forward with questions and preparing to leave," she wrote. "It appears the students are still actively hoping for a resolution before the start of fall term, but are beginning to plan for return to Saudi Arabia if no resolution in the next (two) weeks."

On Aug. 21, the Saudi government had extended its deadline to Sept. 22. A week later, it made a last-minute decision to allow medical students to stay in their Canadian programs.

At least some non-medical students went home at the end of the summer. On Oct. 4, the Saudis told Canadian universities their scholarship students were allowed to return to Canada if they were at the graduate level or nearing the end of a bachelor’s program.

U of M staff suggested they return in early 2019, because it was likely too late for many to register for fall classes, which would void their student visas and medical coverage.

It is unclear whether all Saudi Arabian students at U of M stayed with the school, or if any relocated to the United States or back home. The university declined an interview with its senior officials, but said the institution didn’t lose a dime from the spat.

"As part of prudent planning, the university calculated potential costs were all Saudi students to cease their studies. In the end, that did not happen and, in fact, there was no financial loss," wrote spokesman John Danakas.

He said the university "responded robustly" to the challenge.

"The institution appreciated the potentially challenging situation students were placed in and did everything possible to address their concerns. Units were prepared to manage any impacts. In the end, the uncertainty did not last long and the impacts were few," Danakas wrote.

In a briefing note, university staff noted 1,085 Saudi students had studied at U of M since 1999, though the annual number had fallen from a peak of 109 students in 2012. The university’s academics had co-published work with staff at 11 institutions in that country.

"All international partnerships are highly valued by the University of Manitoba, as they improve our province’s global attractiveness and competitiveness and enhance learning and discovery."

It’s unclear how the departure of 20 Saudi medical residents would have impacted on health care in the city. The Winnipeg Region Health Authority didn’t undertake an analysis of such a risk

"The potential impact from the potential Saudi pullout issue was primarily managed by the U of M college of medicine," wrote spokesman Cory Kolt. "They were connected nationally."

Last November, Journal de Montréal reported McGill University estimated it almost lost $17.4 million from the Saudi threat.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, January 9, 2019 at 6:32 PM CST: Adds photo.

January 10, 2019 at 4:21 PM: adds info about u of w

4:57 PM: adds link to u of w documents

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.