The Saudi Arabian government’s decision to withdraw scholarships to its citizens attending universities in Canada will affect more than 100 students in the Guelph and Waterloo regions.
Of the schools in the area, the University of Waterloo has the highest number of Saudi students enrolled in classes with 84, while the University of Guelph has 35 and Wilfred Laurier University has 15.
In London, Ont., Western University has 131 Saudi students, including 54 medical trainees.
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In 2015, the Middle Eastern country was the sixth largest source of international students in Canada at 11,650 students.
Saudis attending Canadian universities were recently given four weeks by their government to pack their bags and leave the country.
Universities across Canada are still gathering information on how the decision will affect students and the institutions they attend.
“The university is working to understand the actions being taken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the impact these will have on our campus,” University of Waterloo spokesperson Matthew Grant said in a statement.
“University officials have provided information and support to affected students and will continue to monitor the situation,” Grant added.
University of Waterloo professor Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, says the timing of the Saudi government’s decision could not have been worse.
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She told Global News the timing of the announcement is particularly troubling for students because university courses start in September.
“Saudis claim they’ll find new spots for them, but it is not easy to admit students as transfer students weeks before classes start,” she said. “Tens of thousands of students will likely lose a term — if not year — of their studies.”
Ray Darling, registrar at the University of Guelph, echoed Momani’s sentiment and said that the Saudi decision will affect more than just classroom numbers at his school.
“A lot of these are graduate students. We have advisers and faculty members who would have been relying on them to complete their research or act as teaching assistants so we’re going to have to scramble on our end as well to make adjustments for this.”
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Kevin Crowley, a spokesperson for Wilfred Laurier, told Global News that the school has reached out to its Saudi students to offer assistance.
The decision to withdraw students from Canadian universities is part of a recent string of similar moves by the Saudi government.
Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom was expelled Sunday after Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called for the release of Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed dissident blogger Raif Badawi, and Nassima al-Sada, another prominent female activist.
The Saudi ambassador to Ottawa was summoned back on Sunday, and it was announced that the kingdom will also freeze all new trade and investment transactions with Canada.
The Saudi foreign ministry said it wouldn’t stand for outside intervention and called the arrests lawful.
Saudi Arabia has also stopped all medical treatment programs in Canada.
—With files from Global News’ Rebecca Joseph and Katherine Ward