Western assisting Saudi students in transition

Western International is helping Saudi students with academic counselling and social supports as they prepare to leave Western University ­– and Canada ­– upon the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“Students are obviously very concerned. They’re experiencing a lot of stress over this very sudden decree,” said Julie McMullin, Vice-Provost (International).

A total of 168 Western students are affected by the Saudi order. Those numbers include 19 undergraduate students; 42 graduate students; and 16 Western English Language Centre students, as well as 35 medical residents and 56 medical fellows (including 11 who have not yet arrived).

Academically, they are worried whether credits can be transferred to another university, whether they can accelerate their graduation date or push forward a date for defending a thesis, McMullin said. But many of the students also have practical concerns, such as ending an apartment lease or selling their cars or furniture.

The students are caught in a diplomatic tussle in which their country’s leaders have ordered them to leave Canada. The abrupt move was a response to an Aug. 2 tweet by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland urging the Saudi authorities to release two arrested human rights activists who have Canadian ties.

Among other measures, including expelling Canada’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the kingdom has ordered students leave Canadian post-secondary institutions.

That includes medical residents and medical fellows.

“It’s just a sad thing for our country that all these students have to leave,” McMullin said.

Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars have been having individual meetings with the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to work through some of the questions and issues, McMullin said.

Western International staff are meeting with Saudi undergraduates this week.

Some students will return to Saudi Arabia and others will go to the United States or elsewhere. Western will help students transfer credits to other universities.

“We’re here to support the students in these transitions and we’ll do whatever we can to help them,” McMullin said.

During the summer months, many graduate students, medical residents and students enrolled at Western English Language Centre are studying at Western. “It’s actually a small number of students who wouldn’t be in classes right now,” McMullin said.

Western International has also set up a webpage where students can gain more information, academic and practical, about their required move. It also includes a checklist to help with the transition and contact information where students may direct questions.

Saudi students with academic questions or needing other resources can continue to drop in to Western International offices, where they will continue to find support, she said.

“Please know that the university community is very saddened by this news and you have the support of the university community at this time. We understand this is a stressful and uncertain situation for many of you,” the webpage states. “We encourage you to take care of yourself and your family, reach out to others for help, and know that you are not alone. We are here for you.”