Universities need more Emirati teachers

Better wages in the business world are driving nationals away from the academic life, leaving higher institutions with insufficient numbers of home-grown teachers.

ABU DHABI // Universities are facing a huge shortage of Emirati academics because of competition with the commercial sector.

UAE nationals with doctorates are being lured away from academic life by the more attractive salaries in the business world - public and private.

UAE University (UAEU) has the largest proportion, with Emiratis making up 26 per cent of its lecturing staff, but the situation elsewhere is not even close.

Dr Abdulmajeed Khajeh, the head of UAEU's Emirati academics association, says there are many obstacles including a limited career path, poor salary packages, poor facilities and little time and money for research.

Without research there is no promotion, but long teaching hours and piles of paperwork make that difficult for academics.

Only 18 of the 193 Emirati academics at UAEU are full professors. About 125 are assistant professors, the lowest status, at which they remain for up to 20 years. The rest are associate professors.

That, Dr Khajeh says, hardly makes for a rewarding career.

Fatma Abdulla, the managing director of the education consultancy Global Consulting Associates, says mismanaged budgets and under-used personnel are damaging the system.

Hiring foreign academics is expensive, with administration, housing and family packages adding to the cost and drawing money away from the classroom.

Those Emirati doctors who choose to work for federal universities often do so in administrative roles, which is a waste, said Ms Abdulla.

"It doesn't make sense," she said. "People are in the wrong places or not being encouraged to improve and climb up the ladder. Why have people been an assistant professor for 20 years?"

A better career path must be carved out for Emirati academics to stop them leaving in frustration, Dr Khajeh said.

"There must be follow-up, a system where new academics are encouraged and supported to progress, do research, so they could become associate professors within five years, for example," he said.

"You can't just leave these people for 10, 20 years, or else they won't want to develop themselves. It's in the national interest. Nationalisation will lead to stability, which will help in development."

Starting salaries of about Dh39,000 a month make it hard to attract men, Dr Khajeh said. Only 40 per cent of UAEU's academics are male.

A committee has been set up to look at ways to attract and keep young academics. But many of the current academics are not far from retirement age.

Professor Samy Mahmoud, the chancellor of the private University of Sharjah, bemoans the more attractive options for those with a doctorate. Only 15 of his 410 academics are Emirati.

"In government and in the private sector they can advance their careers much faster, and the salaries in general are higher," Prof Mahmoud said.

"Many choose such careers while some also may start their own business. Hence, few are available to work while many universities in the UAE compete to recruit them."

A start, he said, would be encouraging more Emiratis to obtain PhDs.

Of the three federal universities, only UAEU offers PhDs. That is a recent development. Until last year, Emiratis wanting a doctorate had to study overseas.

Prof Mahmoud said ideally, Emirati academics would act as role models for the coming generations.

"Engagement of the local population in the development of the educational institutions is essential for sustainable growth, innovations and in doing research that meets the real needs of their society," he said.

"The picture is simply not complete without them assuming leading, as well as supporting roles."

Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) is embarking on an Emiratisation project to encourage more nationals.

Unlike the universities, its teachers do not need PhDs but competitive salaries continue to be a problem, said Dr Farid Ohan, the head of the Emiratisation committee at HCT.

The colleges now hire young, inexperienced Emiratis to train part-time on the job. After a year, some are taken on as permanent teachers.

"This is working," said Dr Ohan.

Some positions are now being recommended as only to be filled by Emiratis, in subjects such as Arabic, mathematics and basic IT.

Haya Al Raghafli teaches business at Dubai Women's College. Ms Al Raghafli said perceptions of teaching as a career had only recently begun to change.

She said the students responded well to nationals, and were more critical and demanding of their Emirati teachers.

"We never saw Emirati teachers before so there wasn't an awareness that local women could teach," Ms Al Raghafli said.

"It's a very well-respected profession, although it's not the norm."


Published: June 21, 2011 04:00 AM


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