Algonquin College pulls plug on money-losing Saudi Arabian campus

Algonquin College is pulling out of Saudi Arabia.

On Thursday, the college said it plans to pull out of the country before the start of the new school year.

The Ottawa-based post-secondary institution began operating a men-only campus in Jazan, on Saudi Arabia’s southwestern coast, in 2013. It was part of a five-year deal with a Saudi government agency.

"After more than a year of negotiation, we were unable to come to an agreement that would have met our financial objectives," Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen said in a release. "We have said from the beginning that the Jazan Campus must be financially viable for us to continue operating."

When the project was first announced, the college said it expected the for-profit campus in Saudi Arabia to generate $4.4 million in profits.

However, financial statements filed to the college’s board of governors show that Algonquin College – Saudi Arabia had a net loss of $1.4 million during the fiscal year that ended on March 31.

The campus also had losses of $1.4 million during the 2014-15 school year, according to Algonquin College’s website. It returned a profit of almost $80,000 during its first year of operations.

The transfer of the campus’s operations from Algonquin to the Saudi government’s Colleges of Excellence program will cost about $4.3 million, which "will be funded through existing international and ancillary contingency reserve funds," the school said in a release.

"International operations at the college are not funded by the provincial government," said Doug Wotherspoon, Algonquin’s vice-president of international and strategic planning. "I think it’s important that taxpayers understand that revenues from other non-funded operations will offset any losses incurred by our Jazan campus."

Algonquin also has for-profit operations in China, India, Montenegro and Kuwait.

While the school said the decision to leave Saudi Arabia was financially driven, the campus attracted criticism for not accepting women. In January, Premier Kathleen Wynne said it was “unacceptable” for Ontario colleges to run men-only campuses in foreign countries.

As recently as June, Algonquin was exploring the possibility of opening a women-only campus in Saudi Arabia, according to board documents.

The campus also attracted criticism from Algonquin’s faculty union due to human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.