Zayed University provost promises to tackle plagiarism and poor standards complaints

Staff at the government-run university have been using an internal online recruitment portal to voice their frustrations.
Zayed University provost, Dr Abdalla Al Amiri. Jaime Puebla / The National
Zayed University provost, Dr Abdalla Al Amiri. Jaime Puebla / The National

DUBAI // The provost of Zayed University has promised to tackle claims of plagiarism, lowering of standards and bullying made by disgruntled lecturers and students.

Staff at the state university have been using the recruitment website Glass Door to voice their frustrations about the institution, which has campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, scoring it 1.7 out of 10.

Speaking anonymously to The National, they also said redundancies, cuts to overtime pay and housing allowances as well as increases to class sizes and work load have contributed to unhappiness, while students complained of rife plagiarism and standards “like high school”.

Prof Abdalla Al Amiri, who has been in the role for almost a year, said he was bringing in procedures to better handle staff dissatisfaction, including setting up an anonymous online portal where lecturers can air any issues publicly.

“We’re encouraging people to speak out,” said Prof Al Amiri. “We realise there are issues and we have to be transparent. We have a new president and there has been transition this past year. For this alone, people have felt unsettled.”

In the first three months of the year, 262 complaints were made anonymously online about the university. That number has since increased to 565.

One teacher claimed that entry standards for students had been reduced to increase numbers and gain more funding from the government. “It used to be that students needed around a 70 per cent high-school average to come here but now it’s down to just 50. Class sizes have gone up, from around 18-20 to closer to 30 and this impacts on the quality of teaching.

“Being a federal university, the more students they have the more funding they get, so it’s all about finances.”

Prof Al Amiri said the issue of staff shortages was being resolved. “I am in the process of hiring 90 new academics, so this is being addressed. The cap is 24 students per classroom.”

The provost admitted there had been complaints made about several deans as well as other senior management and administration and said cases were being investigated.

One teacher who has worked in Abu Dhabi and Dubai claimed she had been bullied for two years. “We are made to feel that we are in fear of our jobs constantly, accused of things that didn’t happen, like being rude to students.

“It’s a culture of fear and I have been humiliated, threatened with having my classes monitored. It has become untenable.”

Although about 10 people in university college were given six months’ notice that their contracts would not be renewed, Prof Al Amiri said this was “normal turnover”.

Teachers complained about increases to their course load from four to five a term, with those doing research struggling to balance that with teaching.

Prof Al Amiri, however, said this was based on national and international standards. “This is normal for any institution. For those staff doing research and PhDs, they only teach three to four classes, but those with only masters degrees are in teaching roles.”

One student claimed that plagiarism was “rife” with standards at the university “like high school”. He said: “People just don’t take the courses seriously. When everything is made so easy for them from the start, they never want to be challenged.”

Prof Al Amiri said universities the world over struggle with this issue and that action was being taken. “I cannot police everyone,” he said, adding that he was trying to change the culture of education at the institution. “This is not a school; it’s a university, and we need students to understand this.”

mswan@thenational.ae

Published: May 31, 2014 04:00 AM

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