American University of RAK staff was 'overpaid and underworked'

Three-quarters of management were dismissed because they were "all doing the same jobs", new president says.

Dr Shaukat Mirza says the university had been weighed down by too many highly paid staff "all doing the same jobs".
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RAS AL KHAIMAH // Three-quarters of the senior management from the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (Aurak) were dismissed because they were overpaid and "all doing the same jobs", its new president has said. The university has started a radical overhaul following the dismissals, which included the university's president. The new president, Dr Shaukat Mirza, said the university had been weighed down by too many highly paid staff with no clear definition of roles and purpose.

"Every department was over-flooded," he said. "From now on, there won't be any problem. Things will be much more regulated." Dr Mirza wants to redirect the university's efforts and funding into overhauling its programmes. It has applied to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research's accreditation body, the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA), for three new programmes, two Bachelor's and one Master's.

"We're in the process of applying to the CAA for an MSc in Education and Leadership, a BSc in Computer and Information Systems and a BSc in Management," said Dr Mirza. No faculty were dismissed, but two have since left, one in biochemistry and one in chemistry. The university is hiring new teaching staff across the disciplines, which include business administration, biotechnology and computer engineering. Present staffing levels were not enough to deal with the existing second- and third-year students as well as new admissions, Dr Mirza said.

"We need to strengthen the faculty, not just in terms of numbers but also in terms of seniority," he said. "We believe that if we can provide a pool of dedicated faculty who encourage interactive classrooms and research, Ras al Khaimah can become an educational hub." Dr Mirza, who took over from Sharon Siverts after her dismissal in May, hopes to bolster the university's strength through partnerships with local industry.

"Aurak has established very good relationships with several local establishments," he said. "For example, we have sent our electronics and communications engineering students to Etisalat, RAK Police and RAK Municipality, and they have done a very good job at these places. "The programme co-ordinator is also forming an advisory committee, consisting of experts from diverse technology and related industry, to advise us to improve the quality of our instruction and prepare our graduates with the skills needed in the real world."

Mary Corrado, the UAE director of America-Mideast Educational Training Services (Amideast), a non-profit organisation that helps to facilitate study in the United States for students from around the world, said Aurak, which has just 72 students, might struggle to attract the numbers it needs. "It's a small population base," she said. "They have competition from the Higher Colleges of Technology and Ittihad University, and it's not far for the students to go to University City in Sharjah. It's not as much of a draw for the people from other emirates to go to RAK."

The wider GCC market might be a more viable option, Ms Corrado said. "The main thing is for them to work with the local high schools and reach out to the local kids - to get them interested and aware that there is an institution like this on their doorstep," she added. Amideast tests the English language levels of Aurak's candidates and views the university as a welcome addition to the emirate. "We want to see all these schools succeed," Ms Corrado said. "They have good standards and aspirations."

Dr Mirza said part of the challenge the university had faced since setting up last year, was student recruitment. He wants his new team to recruit 200 more for the coming academic year, a target he admitted was ambitious. "No initiatives have been taken to publicise the university, to get people aware of it," he said. "Now, we're starting an active campaign on the radio and in the print media. We're trying to bank on the local schools. After that, the GCC will be targeted, along with other countries who have shown an interest, such as Yemen, Algeria and Sudan."

The university has been blighted by closures. It was set up as a branch campus of George Mason University, in the US, but closed last year, after just three years, due to a lack of funding. Last month, around three quarters of Aurak's staff, including its directors, were made redundant leaving students and remaining staff uncertain of their future. Ian Cumbus, of the CAA, which has had staff visit the university twice in the last month for meetings and assessments, confirmed that it was assessing the situation at Aurak. One staff member who was recently made redundant, said: "There will be a great feeling of uncertainty for current or new staff members in light of the changes at Aurak. For a long time, people have been wondering about the long-term viability of the university when there is so much competition in other emirates, such as the American University of Sharjah and now New York University in Abu Dhabi."