Saudis ban students from Christchurch

Last updated 05:00 09/05/2012
Khalaf Alshammari
ENTHUSIASTIC: Khalaf Alshammari, right, with CPIT engineering tutor John Morgan yesterday.

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Saudi Arabian students have been banned from studying in Christchurch because of earthquake fears.

Students sponsored by the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education cannot get government-funded scholarships in Christchurch this year.

However, some students receiving alternative funding have been able to return.

Masoud Mujtaba, an official at the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in New Zealand, told The Press he did not know if any review of the policy was planned for 2013.

"The Government of Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Higher Education, had a lot of pressure from the parents of students studying in Christchurch because of the situation," he said.

Government-sponsored students could still choose to study in other New Zealand cities, he said.

The decision, coupled with the quakes, has seen a major drop in the number of Saudi students at Christchurch institutions.

In 2008 the city hosted 1097 across higher and tertiary institutes. This figure stood at 1243 in 2009, and 1234 in 2010.

In 2011 just 464 remained.

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology's international director of business development, Beth Knowles, said the institute had seen a significant fall in international students enrolling for the first time.

"There has been a 50 per cent drop-off in first-time students since 2010," she said.

"We expected that, because it will take time for people to get confidence back in Christchurch, and that confidence is returning.

"I think once [the Saudi Government] feel confident they won't have any hesitation about sending students back to Christchurch. I don't see any reason why they won't."

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce travelled to Saudi Arabia last month.

"The minister informed the Saudi Arabians when he was in Riyadh of the good progress that is being made in Christchurch following the earthquakes," a spokesman for Joyce said. "While ultimately any decision for their students to return to Christchurch is one for them to make, the New Zealand Government and officials are working closely with them."

Deputy Mayor Ngaire Button said she understood why parents were concerned after 64 foreign students studying English died in the CTV building's collapse.

"They are cautious ... It will take a little bit longer [to recover] that sector."

Button said the rise in international visitor numbers was a positive signal that confidence in the city was returning.

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Some Saudi students have been able to study in Christchurch this year under Saudi Arabia's Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC). The government-run institute sponsors students studying technical subjects to train abroad.

A booming young population has seen the government push for more highly skilled and educated people to help ensure the future of Saudi education and labour growth.


Khalaf Alshammari arrived in Christchurch weeks before the September 2010 earthquake.

The TVTC-sponsored student now sees the shaken city as a home away from home.

Alshammari, 24, is in his final year of a mechanical engineering degree at CPIT.

After the February 2011 earthquake he, along with all Saudi students, was evacuated from Christchurch.

Alshammari found himself in Wellington, where he stayed for one semester.

"I wanted to come back to CPIT. There was the option to not return, but I chose to," he said. "I think of Christchurch as my second home."

He was quick to praise the support he found at CPIT after the earthquakes, from staff and other students. "My head of department asks me if I am satisfied with the quality of the course. It is fantastic."

His parents had worried about the earthquakes, but he had reassured them.

He chose to study in Christchurch because of CPIT's reputation.

When he completes his degree he will begin an intensive teaching course, which he hopes will be based in Christchurch, before returning to Saudi Arabia to work.

- The Press

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