Saudi backlash against Canada could be felt at UNBC

UNBC President Daniel Weeks
UNBC President Daniel Weeks

BY BILL PHILLIPS

bill@pgdailynews.ca

It’s a little too soon to determine exactly how Saudi Arabia’s actions against Canada will affect the University of Northern B.C.

The kingdom is cutting ties with Canada following a tweet from Ottawa calling on Saudi Arabia to free prisoners jailed for protesting the Saudi government. Cutting those ties could mean not allowing Saudi students to study here.

There were 22 Saudi students at UNBC last year.

“We still very early in the registration cycle, so we don’t know how many of those students are planning to come back,” said UNBC president Dr. Daniel Weeks. “Nor do we know just yet whether any additional students have indicated they wish to come.”

Should Saudi students not be allowed to return, Weeks said it will affect the university by not exposing it, and the Saudi students, to each other.

“The impact on our campus, unfortunately, is that it reduces the cultural diversity of our campus,” he said. “We’ve had some outstanding students from Saudi Arabia over the past few years.”

Weeks said he has been trying to increase the number of international students to the university as they help bring diversity, especially to a smaller university.

“Many of the Canadian students that we have don’t have the luxury of being in an urban environment where they might meet people of different cultures,” he said. “So it’s really important to us to try and bring that kind of experience to the North and to the students who are on our campus.”

Weeks said financial impact of the Saudi government denying 22 students the chance to study here is minimal.

“It’s negligible,” he said. “It really doesn’t have much of an impact. Our international number fluctuate from year to year and fluctuate due to programs. The impact, financially, is hardly even worth worrying about. The real impact on us is the incredible importance for having cultural diversity on our campus.”

He said the university is working with Universities Canada to determine exactly what the impact will be. He added that UNBC recruits students from all over the world.

“We’re an attractive institution for many students around the world. We’re big enough to be relevant, but we’re small enough to care deeply about our students … For students who want something a little different and want a real Canadian experience, UNBC is very attractive.”

College of New Caledonia media relations officer Dustin Ruth said the college does not have any Saudi students and aren’t expecting any this upcoming year.