Education, denied

Graphic by Wednesday Laplante

Ah, Twitter. The wonderful app that connects the universe with short bursts of 280-character tweets. Those tweets, which provide us with a way of expressing ourselves, are often funny, insightful, and inspiring. While Twitter is a great app that has been known to start careers and highlight important issues, it has also been known to end careers and relationships. And we’re not talking about relationships between people per say—unfortunately, we mean relationships between countries.

At the beginning of August, Canada’s foreign ministry tweeted: “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” This spurred angry tweets by the Saudi foreign ministry.

In a series of tweets, the Saudi foreign ministry said they were expelling the Canadian ambassador from the country and suspended trade and investment transactions between the two nations. Most notably, the Saudi government decided to suspend scholarships for its foreign students studying at Canadian universities and colleges, according to Global News.

All students relying on Saudi-funded scholarships have either already been forced to leave, or are preparing to leave Canada in the coming weeks. Sept. 22 was announced as the final deadline for Saudi trainee doctors to leave the country, according to CBC News. The same source confirmed that 8,310 Saudi students were enrolled in Canadian post-secondary schools from Jan. to May 2018. Of that number, 435 were in Quebec, with 327 at McGill University, and more than 60 at Concordia.

We at The Concordian are frustrated to see innocent students affected by this diplomatic dispute. While we understand that each country has its own customs and political systems, we believe that no student’s education should be affected by international policy disputes—especially ones rooted in a request to respect human rights. In an ideal world, these students would be allowed to stay and strive for a bright future here in Canada.

We cannot imagine what these students are going through. But we know that Canada—our society, our educational system and our workforce—will be deeply affected by the departure of these students. Saudi Arabia was the sixth largest source of international students in Canada in 2015, according to a Global Affairs report. International students add approximately $15.5 billion annually to Canada’s economy, with Saudi students representing five per cent of that group.

Specifically, Saudi students’ impact on the Canadian economy is approximately $400 million per year, according to the same source. Although monetary value should be the last thing we look at when determining someone’s worth, it’s important to stress and recognize how detrimental this loss is for Canada.

In an ideal world, a tweet about human rights would not trigger such a hasty retaliation. In an ideal world, that tweet wouldn’t have been necessary to begin with. The common saying that students are our future is true; students are the force that shapes society’s future. The things we learn and what we choose to do with that knowledge is useful in developing our opinions and overall worldview. It’s a shame that a diplomatic dispute is interrupting something as important as education.

We consider those who finally felt Canada was becoming their home. For those of you who have to say goodbye to a place you only recently said hello to; for those who were almost finished with their degree and were beginning to step toward a bright career here in Canada. We’re disappointed that a nation that celebrates its diversity and inclusivity is losing cherished and valuable members of our society. The Concordian wishes you luck in all your future endeavours, and we hope something as trivial as a tweet is never again the reason for your goodbyes.

Graphic by Wednesday Laplante

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