Students complain of 'arbitrary expulsions' at Saudi technical colleges

Students complain of 'arbitrary expulsions' at Saudi technical colleges
Feature: Students at Saudi Arabia's technical colleges are complaining about chaotic administration and the expulsions of more than 2,000 students across the country.
4 min read
24 September, 2015
Students' families in Dammam are suing the Colleges of Excellence [AFP]
Nora al-Asiri is a young Saudi Arabian student from Dammam who enrolled last year in one of the kingdom's government-run technical colleges known as the Colleges of Excellence.

Nora was passing her classes with with flying colours.

However, just two weeks before the end of the school year, Nora was shocked to receive a letter from the college informing her of her expulsion.

Believing there to be a mistake, Nora went to the college administration to ask for an explanation, only to find that 600 other students had received a similar letter.

"It was like a massacre. They gathered us in the college theatre and told us to sign our expulsion papers. Those who refused to sign were kept in the theatre like captives. It was that simple," said Nora.

The case became public when the parents of the 600 hired a lawyer and decided to sue the college, which they accused of harming the students' futures.

However, the college responded by saying the expulsions were due to students' repeated absences.

Chaotic administration

"Those taking the attendance register used to mark students as absent despite their daily attendance," Nora said.

"Everything was administered very chaotically at the college, as if they wanted students to fail. The college also randomly changed the level of English students, placing beginners in advanced classes and vice versa."
One of my friends received her expulsion notice while taking an exam. She was prevented from completing it
- Hanadi al-Barrak

Hanadi al-Barrak, another College of Excellence student, was informed of her expulsion via text message. Unlike the other students, however, she was not shocked.

"I was not surprised by the decision because many of my colleagues had been expelled a week before me. One of my friends received her expulsion notice while taking an exam, and she was prevented from completing it," Hanadi said.

And it's not just in one city, with more than 200 students in Mecca protesting their unexpected expulsion, with similar cases in Riyadh and Jeddah.

In Mecca and Jeddah, the college's explanation for the expulsions was that the students had graduated from high school more than three years ago, despite the fact that they had passed admissions interviews and attended classes for several weeks.

The expelled students from Dammam told al-Araby al-Jadeed that everything at the college was normal until the institution hired a new dean.

"The new dean started making unjust rules such as making attendance compulsory at 7:30am even though lectures don't start until noon, in addition to having a vague curriculum and unspecified hours for classes," said Badriyyah al-Saidan, a student who has taken it upon herself to raise the students' complaints with the authorities.

"Things were not clear, we didn't even know our exam results, and whenever we asked the supervisors they would answer they don't know either. It was chaos."

'Wasteful projects'

Saudi Arabia has 33 Colleges of Excellence in 27 cities, aiming to provide technical training in tourism, industry, information technology, administration and the aviation sector. They have more than 15,000 students.

Fahad al-Dahaish, the former head of strategic partnerships at the government's Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, believes the problems faced by the colleges are down to poor private-sector management.

Dahaish believes the $3.4 billion dollars allocated to the Colleges of Excellence could have been better used training students abroad in leading international companies, which would give students a better understanding of the actual job market and industry they are training for.

The main reason for this is to pressure the government's technical education authority to increase the payments they receive
- Anonymous college administrator

The director of the Colleges of Excellence, Saleh al-Amro, refused to talk to al-Araby al-Jadeed, despite repeated calls to his office.

However, the numerous complaints by students forced the spokesman for the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation to publicly state that only 165 students were expelled from colleges, and after they received three warnings for absences from 50 to 90 percent of the term's classes.

However, expelled students insist that their numbers are closer to 2,000, and claims of absenteeism were baseless.

An employee at one of the Colleges of Excellence, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job, told al-Araby that foreign education companies employed arbitrary expulsions as a strategy to run the colleges.

"The main reason for this is to pressure the government's technical education authority to increase the payments they receive, in addition to keeping students registered after their expulsion to charge the government for their education," said the employee.

The Colleges of Excellence were launched in 2013 under the umbrella of the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation and with funding from the Saudi Human Resources Fund. The goal of the project was to provide high calibre technical training that would mix public and private education.

Students receive monthly financial incentives to study, and the colleges receive government funding for each student they teach.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission is currently investigating the Colleges of Excellence after receiving numerous complaints of corruption.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.