TORONTO – It is “unacceptable” for publicly funded Ontario colleges to operate campuses outside Canada that exclude women, the premier of Ontario said Friday when asked about two men-only schools in Saudi Arabia.
Ontario post-secondary institutions have a duty to ensure those programs offer equal access to women and men, added Kathleen Wynne.
“That is, I think, the minimum we expect in 2016,” she said.
“As soon as I found out there was a possibility that women weren’t being offered programs, I asked questions about it, and it’s unacceptable to me.”
Niagara College and Ottawa-based Algonquin College opened men-only campuses two years ago in two cities in Saudi Arabia, where Sharia law forbids the education of women and men in the same classes.
Wynne suggested that she still wasn’t sure women were barred from classes at the Saudi campuses of Niagara and Algonquin colleges.
“My understanding is the minister is looking at it, and if women don’t have access to programs, then that’s got to change,” she said. “And if they don’t, then that’s another conversation that has to be had with both Niagara and Algonquin.”
Colleges and Universities Minister Reza Moridi, who earlier said it was up to colleges to determine the student makeup on their campuses, expressed concerns Thursday that women were excluded from the Ontario-run programs.
Wynne said she told Moridi to meet with the two colleges to find out about their Saudi campuses.
“Both Algonquin and Niagara have been contacted by the minister,” she said.
“My understanding is that at the beginning of this process when the two colleges were setting up this program, there was a discussion about women having access.”
However, no one from the government or the colleges is saying why they were allowed to set up men-only campuses in Saudi Arabia.
The Progressive Conservatives said Wynne and Moridi should have known from the start what Niagara and Algonquin were up to with their Saudi programs.
“I would have to view it as, to use her phrase, a stretch for her not to have been aware that for two years these colleges have been operating in Saudi Arabia under a program were only men were allowed as students,” said PC critic John Yakabuski.
“They had to be aware of this, but acted only because there’s a story in the media.”
New Democrat post-secondary education critic Peggy Sattler said cash-strapped colleges get the majority of their funding from tuition fees and other sources of revenue, but have gone too far with men-only campuses in Saudi Arabia.
“They’re making agreements to create campuses in places where Ontario’s commitment to equality and ending gender-based violence is not respected,” she said.
Ontario provides $1.44 billion in funding to its 24 community colleges, with Algonquin getting $103 million for the current fiscal year, while Niagara College received $45 million. The government says it has steadily increased funding to colleges, with Niagara getting a 96 per cent increase and Algonquin 78 per cent since the Liberals were first elected in 2003.
© 2016 The Canadian Press