Egan: Algonquin’s money-losing Saudi campus raises ethical questions

Valid questions:

Why does the world go nuts when the University of Ottawa student federation cancels a yoga class – for lack of cultural sensitivity – but no one bats an eye when Algonquin College opens a men-only campus in Saudi Arabia, only to lose $1 million in public money in one year?

Algonquin, the city’s leading college with 20,000 students, has a mission statement that details its core values. One of them is “integrity,” described thusly: “We believe in trust, honestly and fairness in all relationships and transactions.”

Another is “respect,” put this way: “We value the dignity and uniqueness of the individual. We value the equity and diversity in our community.”

How you square those values in a country with a human rights record like Saudi Arabia is a mystery. It has been said — and written — that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne would not only be barred from attending Algonquin’s campus in Jazan, she could well be arrested for being open about her sexuality. If she tried driving a car to class, Lord knows what would happen.

(This is not histrionics: public floggings and beheadings are common in a country with so-called religious police. It hardly helps when you visit the Human Rights Watch website and the first story on Saudi Arabia is: “Poet Sentenced to Death for Apostasy.”)

Nonetheless, a couple of the Wynne ministries were only too eager to announce this great adventure in international education in 2013.

The optics are terrible, frankly, gender inequality being one of many sore points.

The college said this planned “revenue generator” was important at a time of reduced funding, presumably from the Ontario treasury. At capacity, annual revenue in Jazan was to peak at more than $25 million.

Well, does this not have a “sell-your-soul” feel to it? It’s OK if it makes money? Setting aside that whopper, the bottom-line predictions turned out to be wrong.

The campus lost $983,000 in 2014/15 and the estimate for the current year is a modest profit of $232,000, followed by projected profits of $2 million and $3.6 million. Well, we shall see. It might be the moment to point out Algonquin’s operating deficit for 2016/17 is projected to be near the $5-million mark.

This can probably be parsed eight ways to Sunday, but the bottom line is easy to find. This is a public institution. It is not a for-profit corporation. It needs to think pretty hard about gambling with the public’s money, with an eye on profit, to provide a service to citizens in one of the world’s wealthiest countries.

The people of Ontario — is it not so — are subsidizing oil sheiks?

The arguments are not lost on the school. It produced a strategic plan in 2014 that discussed the human rights records in countries where Algonquin does or might collaborate.

“Algonquin believes that education is a powerful, effective force for positive change in any country,” it reads.

“For these reasons, while some feel Algonquin should not partner with countries that do not offer the same human rights protections as Canada, the College is convinced that working with those genuinely invested in change can yield beneficial outcomes. Saudi Arabia and China, for example, are investing heavily in education and have explicit policies encouraging their educational institutions to partner with those in the west.”

It is also worth asking whether the Saudi deal could have been structured so that Ontario taxpayers were protected. Instead, the college is paid on a performance-based model that takes into account things like attendance and graduation rates.

Wonderful if students stay in school. Not so good if they drop out, or flunk, which they did in alarming numbers in 2013-14: of the 600 students in the English foundation program, only 20 per cent completed the year.

Things are improving, however. This year, the school has 800 students, including 200 in actual diploma programs. So, perhaps, financially, the corner has been turned.

This hardly solves the conflict in values. Institutions of higher learning should be places where ideas — even crazy ones about yoga — can be expressed without fear of reprisal. Hard to imagine this is the case at Algonquin’s Saudi campus, where students are learning how to be accountants and “truck and coach technicians.”

Source: Egan: Algonquin’s money-losing Saudi campus raises ethical questions | Ottawa Citizen

France’s Real Crisis Is About More Than Just Refugees | TIME

More on the French integration challenges and how laïcité has not helped:

“France is a diverse open minded society, but France also as a collective country has a dark history that they have to acknowledge. But not it’s really just about looking at the past, but facing up to the past in order to claim a common future. That’s still missing in France,” says Amel Boubekeur, a researcher on European Islamic issues at Grenoble University. “I believe that it is something that the U.K. has dealt with much more successfully than France, though it wasn’t the same experience—it was a less violent one. “

France utterly rejected the notion that being French included women covering their heads. Enshrined in its laws is the concept of laicité, or secularization. France moved to protect its culture and in the years since has, for the most part, banned Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to school. To level the playing field, they also banned Christian and Jewish symbols, including yarmulkes. Almost every year since there have been French-Muslim protests to allow their girls to wear foulards to school. The protests ebbed and flowed with the news: after the invasion of Iraq they found new life and have only grown since.

But this enforced secularism isn’t unique to France. In 2009, Antwerp in Belgium moved to ban foulards in schools, a move that spread across Belgium, though not uniformly. At the same time, a new Islamist group, Sharia4Belgium, flourished by opposing the prohibitions on head scarves in the name of religious and civil liberties. The ban “was a major rally point for organizations like Sharia4Belgium,” says Guy Van Vlierden, editor of a blog on Belgian foreign fighters. “A lot of spontaneous action started for that. That has driven a lot of young people into the arms of terrorism, that’s very clear.”

Sharia4Belgium, like many French extremist recruiters and imams, preyed on the immigrants’ sense of not belonging—of unsuccessful assimilation—even when those immigrants were second or third generation. It was the sense of being robbed of their “roots” that set the Kouachi brothers down their destructive path toward Al-Qaeda, that would prove fatal for the employees of Charlie Hebdo.

Europe is a society still grappling with its minority groups, even thousands of years later; just look at the Catalonian and Scottish pushes for independence. It’s also a continent of ancient, beautiful cultures that are fighting to survive within the bigger entity of the European Union; many of the things that make a nation a nation have been subsumed: currency, borders, even to some degree, military action. One means of resistance for France is to protect, at all costs, what makes French people French at a time when its cultural traditions seem under threat — both from the top, with the economic necessity of the European Union, and from the bottom, with the waves of immigrants, and the foulards in the schools. In an increasingly existential crisis, France is attempting to assimilate by force: no foulards, expel radical imams, speak French not Arabic, learn the Marseillaise. But the more they win, the more they lose.

“There has to be some nurturing otherwise people feel like second class citizens, when they’re only invited to speak out against terrorism but say nothing else,” says Boubekeur. “They will say: ‘I have other opinions, other voices and I have the right to express opinions that aren’t loyal to France if I want to do so.’ When you can’t speak to the mainstream, you withdraw from the mainstream.” Culture wars have no winners.

Source: France’s Real Crisis Is About More Than Just Refugees | TIME