Links to Saudi Arabia face scrutiny
Local colleges, universities address status of sponsorship, contracts.
Some institutions of higher education are rethinking their relationship with Saudi Arabia and its government following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Associated Press reported recently.
Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, disappeared after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2. The Saudi government weeks later admitted Khashoggi is dead.
The Associated Press analyzed federal data and found that at least $354 million from the Saudi government or institutions it controls has flowed to more than 30 American schools since 2011.
Locally, Wilkes University has 73 Saudi Arabian students, the second-largest contingent of foreign students next to the 85 students from Kuwait, said Gabrielle D’amico, the school’s executive director of communications.
The Saudi students “are an important part of our community and contribute greatly to the culture of campus at the undergraduate and graduate levels,” D’amico said, in a statement.
The education of those students is typically supported by the Saudi Arabian government and Wilkes has no plans to end that sponsorship arrangement “since it would negatively impact qualified students seeking an education in the United States,” D’amico said.
Wilkes does not have any government contracts with Saudi Arabia, and the university’s relationship with the Saudis is limited to being among the schools on the approved scholarship list for the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, she said.
According to its website, the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission is part of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. It was created “to meet the educational and cultural needs of Saudis studying in the United States,” the website states.
The University of Scranton has 18 students from Saudi Arabia. Some attend the university through Saudi government scholarships, and others are funded by private Saudi companies, said Gerry Zaboski, vice provost for enrollment management and external affairs. The university was unable to provide the amount of money it receives from the Saudi government.
“The University of Scranton provides a transformational Catholic and Jesuit education to students locally, nationally and internationally. This includes students from Saudi Arabia who receive scholarships administered through the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission. These students add much to the rich diversity of our campus,” according to a statement from the university.
A spokesman for Misericordia University said: “Misericordia University is open to enrollment (of) students from around the world, including Saudi students. Each of our students is responsible for their personal tuition balance, and many use sources of outside funding to pay all or part of their expenses. Misericordia University has no direct financial relationship with the Saudi government.”
A King’s College spokesman said King’s, as a research university, does not receive any contracts or gifts from the Saudis.
Penn State Wilkes-barre did not return a message seeking comment.