US academics not eager for Gulf life

A survey of American academics ranks several Gulf states as the least desirable overseas postings for US professors.

ABU DHABI // A survey of American academics has ranked several Gulf states as the least desirable overseas postings for US professors. However, US academics in the UAE interviewed by The National were generally happy with life here. The Chronicle of Higher Education polled 2,900 American university administrators and professors about their impressions of 15 countries thought to be heavy recruiters for US academics to gauge interest in working abroad at a time when higher education is increasingly global.

The UAE was placed 12th, trailed only by Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Britain, Australia and Canada topped the list. Elizabeth Scarborough, the chief executive of Simpson Scarborough, the higher education marketing firm that administered the study, said the results reflected the American perception that the Gulf remains "dangerous". "Interest is highest in Europe, because that's what US faculty members perceive to be the most safe," she said.

Being isolated from family and friends was the most cited reason academics might not want to teach abroad, followed by cost of living and not knowing the language. Personal safety ranked ninth. The major draws of an overseas post were being immersed in another culture, the desire to live abroad, learn a new language and to expose family members to a different culture. Respondents said they would be more interested in foreign positions if they could teach in English, if the salary was high and if language training was available.

Asked about the Chronicle survey, university administrators in the UAE said recruiting talent from the US had not been a problem. Dr Daniel Johnson, provost of Zayed University, said: "I do think there is a lack of understanding about the Gulf and the Middle East in the United States, and think we have to do a better job of communicating about what it's really like here. But it certainly hasn't impacted us in our recruitment here."

Dr Mark Drummond, provost of the Higher Colleges of Technology, said his institution also had not had trouble hiring Americans, but the issue that often comes up is simply the distance. "Another issue that I hear is basically that the culture is very different," he said. "It really is not a western culture. I think there is a perception that in a Muslim country there are a lot of strict rules and it may not be too comfortable to live. I think when people visit they see that is not necessarily a valid assumption."

Dr Drummond said the cost of living and pay were also factors in attracting candidates, but among the more significant obstacles could be the perception that taking a foreign post would interrupt a career path. Dr Rory Hume, the provost of UAE University, agreed with his peers. "It's not an area where we've had to make special efforts to overcome hurdles," he said. Just over eight per cent of faculty members at UAE University come from the US, the fourth largest group after UAE nationals, Egyptians and Canadians.

Dr Scott Campbell, an assistant professor of business administration at Zayed University who moved from South Carolina in August, said he had reservations about moving to the region at first. "The reality is I had to research it carefully. I'm a single father of three daughters and so I chose the UAE because it was the most liberalised of the Middle Eastern countries." Belinda German, the director of development at Zayed University, said many of her peers see working abroad as a growth opportunity.

"Many of my colleagues are young in the profession and I think the job market in the US is really tight in academia, and they found themselves struggling to find good positions so when opportunities here were offered they seized these opportunities," she said.