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Dalhousie University Says It Will Sell Medical-School Places to Saudi Arabia

March 14, 2011

In a move that has raised eyebrows, Dalhousie University's medical school is selling 10 spaces for $75,000 each to qualified students from Saudi Arabia to make up an operating-budget shortfall.

"Our intention, barring any unforeseen circumstance, is to admit 10 Saudi students a year for the foreseeable future," Tom Marrie, dean of the medical school based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, told The Chronicle. He believes this is the first deal of its kind for a Canadian medical school. Such schools in Canada are government subsidized.

In a somewhat unusual circumstance, the school had some extra spaces for students at its Halifax campus after it opened a satellite facility in the neighboring province of New Brunswick. However, the Nova Scotia government has refused to pay for any additional students, so that left 10 unfilled seats in Halifax for this fall. Selling those unsubsidized seats to Saudi students is a win for all, according to the dean.

"There are no downsides since these students will go back to Saudi Arabia for their residencies," Dr. Marrie said.

Nova Scotia says it must complete a study to see how many additional doctors it needs before it will pay for more places. However, opposition politicians have been vocal in their criticism of the government's failure to use the places, and they oppose the idea of educating foreign doctors at a time when they say there is a shortage of medical professionals in some parts of the province.

There's no doubt the money from the Saudi students will put the medical school on better financial footing. The school and the Nova Scotia government have been in a complex financial dispute for more than a year over cuts in the operating budget. In addition, the medical school has had to pay additional costs associated with remedying accreditation issues, including revamping the curriculum.

It was placed on probation for two years, mainly for noncompliance in some administrative areas, and given requirements for "better curriculum management, monitoring, and evaluation."

Dr. Marrie sent a memorandum last week to faculty and students explaining the move to admit Saudi students, reassuring current students that the Saudi applicants will face the same admission and performance standards. "They will arrive speaking fluent English and with degrees from North American universities, so we are confident they will fit in well with our student body."

In October, Canada and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to provide advanced health-care training as part of the Saudi government's five-year, $400-billion development plan to expand the country's' health-care system.