Canada’s Algonquin College has become the latest college to announce it is pulling out of the controversial Colleges of Excellence (CoE) scheme to upskill young Saudi Arabians.
The college said its loss-making Jazan campus would be transferred to another operator by September after becoming financially unviable.
Winding up the college will cost it an estimated C$5.8 million (£3.5 million), including the costs of ending the contract and transferring the school, although this does not include losses it has already incurred.
The Colleges of Excellence scheme was launched in 2012 to improve the employability of young Saudis and has seen 37 contracts to run technical colleges outsourced to foreign providers - over half of them British.
But despite promises of lucrative earnings, a number of contractors with Colleges of Excellence told EducationInvestor last year that they were barely breaking even beacuse of unfair contract terms and a lack of student demand.
Jazan was Ottawa-based Algonquin’s first international campus, and at the time of its launch in 2013 officials predicted it would earn around C$20 million in profit over five years.
But these projections were soon revised downward after the all-male college got into trouble.
As other providers have reported finding, students arrived with poor English, maths and study skills and were unprepared for the technical courses Algonquin was contracted to deliver.
Many dropped out and Algonquin began to lose money, as payment from CoE is linked to attendance rates and outcomes.
Algonquin had also faced mounting criticism in Canada for running a college that excluded women and for operating in a country with a poor human rights record. The college had intended to launch another, all-female college but has abandoned the plan.
Doug Wotherspoon, Algonquin’s vice-president for international, said: “We’re following the entrepreneurial creed, which is to be bold, be innovative, be courageous, but when it doesn't work, move on.”
Other contractors have also dropped out of CoE, including Lincoln College, which closed two colleges it ran on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government last February citing lack of student demand.
Pearson also dropped out of a contract it had to run three colleges in June 2015, and was rumoured to be in a legal dispute with CoE, although the publisher has since declined to comment on the matter.
Current operators on the Colleges of Excellence programme include Babcock (UK), Activate Learning (UK) and Laureate Education (US) and hail from both the public and private sectors.
The Saudi authorities have yet to respond publicly to criticism of the programme.