College recovers £500k Saudi Arabian debt

A college that recently terminated its contract with the controversial Saudi Arabian Colleges of Excellence programme due to on-going delays in claiming back a £500,000 debt has now recovered the cash.

Dudley College, rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, began work with the Saudi government in 2011 and most recently delivered Capacity Building Contracts in Hafr Al-Batin Girls College.

The contract started in September 2017 and was due to conclude in 2020 but the college felt it had “no choice but to terminate” the relationship after repeated failures by the programme to pay the college, as reported by FE Week on January 18.

Confirming the payment of £500,000 has now been recovered, Lowell Williams chief executive of Dudley College, said: “In total the college was owed over £0.5 million for work delivered as part of the CBC project in Hafr-Al-Batyn Girls College.

“I regret that we could not have resolved this issue earlier. We would have liked to continue our good work in the Kingdom and complete the project which was due to run until 2020.

“Unfortunately further payment delays would have forced the College to use UK public funds to sustain the cash flow of the CBC project. We did not feel this was appropriate, nor were we in a position to continue working at risk.”

He continued: “I am grateful the Saudi government has now honoured their commitment under this contract. I acknowledge the critical role the UK’s Department for Trade and Industry has played in bringing this mater to a resolution.”

Mr Williams said he would not “rule out working in the Kingdom in the future, if a mutually beneficial opportunity arises, but we have no immediate plans to this effect”.

The Colleges of Excellence programme was founded in 2013 to boost technical and vocational education and training in Saudi Arabia through partnerships with international providers.

But a number of providers dropped out of the programme early on as challenges with operating in the region became apparent.

An FE Week investigation in 2016 uncovered grave financial problems at some of the colleges taking part.

Lincoln College and the Hertfordshire Vocational Education Consortium won huge contracts from the CoE programme of around £250 million each in 2014. But both experienced significant losses associated with these contract in their accounts for the following year.

Colleges have previously been warned off overseas ventures.