Archive for July, 2010

When I was first interviewing for a faculty position here in Abu Dhabi, I asked whether the university adopted a US educational framework.  The administration assured me that it was moving towards a US higher education model, one that I equate with minimal oversight, a genuine interest in research, professorial liberty, and freedom from the chains of religion.  Unfortunately, the US emulation plan seems to have started and ended with the decision to call faculty ‘assistant/associate professors’ instead of ‘lecturers’ and with the use of the four-point grading scale.

But according to a recent article in the LA Times, Abu Dhabi does want to emulate the US higher education model:


Dr. Mugheer Khamis Al-Khaili, director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), is quoted as saying

Clearly the USA has the world’s top universities and best higher education system as evidenced by international ranking. We can learn a lot from the USA experience in higher education. (LA Times, 27 July 2010)

Yes, Abu Dhabi, you can learn a lot.  Here are a few tips for you:

  • Ditch the practice of ordering faculty to use ‘official’ syllabi (some of which I know from experience were developed by pseudo-faculty without terminal degrees).
  • Get rid of the grading ‘guidelines’ and the requirement that all marks be submitted to the administration for prior approval.
  • Allow the professionals that you have hired to determine whether there will be final exams, how much they will count towards the final grade, and what their format will be.
  • Encourage research and professional activity outside of the classroom even if it falls outside the narrow focus of a particular institution’s curriculum (in other words, pay for the mathematician to present his paper at a math conference – the world of academia extends beyond IEEE).
  • Provide faculty with allowances for books and professional association fees.
  • Cease catering to the whims of students who wield their wasta or exploit their delicate religious sensibilities in order to retaliate against faculty who grade them based on their performance and not their desires.
  • Adopt a culture of encouraging and rewarding independent thinking instead of regurgitation.  (In my opinion, this will require a sea change that islamic countries are not ready for, but until that change occurs, emulation of any western educational model will remain elusive.)


Los Angeles Times. (27 July 2010). Planning for tomorrow: education and health reform in Abu Dhabi. Retrieved (31 July 2010) from http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jul/27/news/la-ss-abudhabi-0714-education-health


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Jobs galore at HCT (if you want them)

A quick check on HCT’s career opportunities page reveals postings for 45 faculty positions.  Forty-five. That seems like a big number, especially when you consider that we’re looking at just six weeks before the start of the Fall 2010 term.  And an even bigger number when you have a look at some recent commentary here in the ether on the Higher Colleges of Technology (and in particular, the Abu Dhabi Women’s College):

Dave’s ESL Café:  Sackings in HCT Abu Dhabi

Anonymous blog:  Welcome to ADWC!

Anonymous blog:  HCT sucks!

Now I have no idea who most of these posters are, or whether their grumblings are justified, but have a look at a few of the comments and then take this simple quiz:

___ I am now more likely to apply to HCT for an academic position.

___ I am now less likely to apply to HCT for an academic position.

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ExpatAcademic is away…

but more news and commentary coming soon, so stay tuned.

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A few months back I posted some comments on a British Council presentation about UK opportunities in the UAE tertiary education sector (Morgan, n.d.).  Here’s the link to that post

Research in the UAE, or how to present numbers without really trying

and the permanent link to the British Council presentation, which appears to have been removed from the web since:

Research in the UAE

As I mentioned, Morgan (n.d.) states that one of the obstacles to building research is that  “only 20% of Emirati men graduate high school.”  I found this shocking at the time, but what I find more shocking is that the figure appears to be inaccurate.

Last month, The National reported that “Out of every 100 male Emirati students, the report says, just 32 graduate on time. Forty-seven fail grades and another 21 drop out.” (Lewis, 20 June 2010).

Other periodicals report similar numbers, all based on the Dubai Labour Force Survey of 2008 and summarised in the Knowledge & Human Development Authority’s Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau Annual Report 2010 (KHDA, 2010):

The picture of poor motivation among older boys in public schools is reinforced by the prevailing dropout rates among nationals in Dubai, as well as in the wider UAE.  According to the Dubai Statistics Center’s 2008 Labor Force Survey, 22 percent of male and 14 percent of female Emiratis in Dubai aged 20 to 24 had dropped out of school prior to completion.  Although the dropout rate in Dubai is the lowest when compared regionally, it is twice that observed in other developed education systems. […]

Of a hypothetical group of 100 male Emirati students commencing Grade 6 public schooling, current figures suggest 32 would graduate on time, 47 would be kept behind at least once and thus cannot graduate on time, and 21 would leave education permanently. (KHDA, 2010, pp. 42-43)

Since Morgan’s British Council presentation wasn’t dated, one might think that he wrote the piece long before the release of Dubai’s statistics.  But I don’t think so.  His presentation contains sufficient temporal references to date it as researched and prepared in 2009.

So, shame on you, Mr. Morgan, for putting such a blatantly wrong number in black and white (or purple and white):

And shame on me for committing one of the researcher’s seven deadly sins:  not cross-checking my facts.


Government of Dubai – Dubai Statistics Center. (2008). Labour Force Survey 2008. Retrieved (15 July 2010) from http://www.dsc.gov.ae/EN/StatisticalProjects/Pages/ProjectSummary.aspx?ProjectId=16

Government of Dubai – Knowledge and Human Development Authority. (2010). Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau Annual Report 2010. Retrieved (15 July 2010) from http://www.khda.gov.ae/CMS/WebParts/TextEditor/Documents/KHDA-DSIB%20Annual%20Report%202010%20English.pdf

Lewis, K. (20 June 2010). Alarm over school dropout rate. The National. Retrieved (15 July 2010) from http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100620/NATIONAL/706199837&SearchID=73396829639048

Morgan, B. (n.d.).  Research in the UAE:  An opportunity for UK universities? The British Council.  Retrieved (5 May 2010) from http://www.britishcouncil.org/research_in_the_uae.ppt

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Stories and commentary in the edusphere continue to speculate on the the cause of MSU Dubai’s early (and rather sudden) fold. The main contributing factor seems to be low student enrollment — to the tune of about 50% of the number of students projected — and the Lansing State Journal’s recent article suggests that the global economic slowdown is to blame:

MSU’s Dubai loss blamed on economy (Miller, 7 July 2010)

Well, perhaps.

For one thing, MSU Dubai’s tuition fees of $7,920 per semester (Redden, 7 July 2010) are lower than those at the American University of Sharjah ($10,010) and the American University in Dubai ($8,984) and neither of those institutions appears to be closing its doors for financial reasons.

And just one day earlier, The Chronicle of Higher Education quoted MSU’s president Lou Anna K. Simon as saying that MSU’s Dubai campus wasn’t able to attract “enough qualified students to its Dubai campus, which held the same high standards of admission as its Michigan campus” (Mills, 6 July 2010).  Inside Higher Ed’s report this week quoted Simon as well:  ““the admissions standards are no different in East Lansing than in Dubai, which is part of the enrollment problem, I would say parenthetically.” (Redden, 7 July 2010).  These statements both imply that MSU Dubai wasn’t very interested in filling classrooms simply for the sake of filling them. (To get the whole picture, it would be nice to see how many MSU Dubai applicants were turned away and subsequently accepted at other institutions in the area.)

Alan Ruby at U Penn’s Graduate School of Education has suggested another possible contributor to the MSU failure:  NYU Abu Dhabi.  Um, sorry Mr. Ruby, but I don’t believe this.

Think about it.  Over one-third of NYUAD’s class of 2014 are from the US.  How many of MSU Dubai’s students are (were?) US citizens?  My guess is not many, because I just can’t think of a reason for a US resident who wants a degree from Michigan State to choose get that degree at a piddly little branch campus halfway around the world (particularly when they’d have to pay for it, which isn’t the case at NYUAD).

See, this is why we have to stop lumping NYUAD into the pool of American branch campuses setting up shop in the UAE.  NYU is set on a general expansion of its global reach:  the new NYU campus could just as easily have been in country X — assuming country X had deep enough pockets — and the NYUAD students will have access to the ‘global network’ sites in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Florence, Ghana, London, Madrid, New York, Paris, Prague, Shanghai, and Tel Aviv (NYU, n.d.).  In contrast, most other US institutions here are looking to tap the specific local market and aren’t offering much beyond a four-year stint in one of the emirates.  (I’ll be writing more on this in the near future.)

So while I still think that someone at MSU dropped the market research ball, I can’t completely fault them for not being able to predict an economic crisis, and I certainly don’t believe that they’ve had to shut down because the twelve UAE residents who were itching for an MSU degree were wooed away by the charms of NYU.  The story I’m most likely to buy is the one about not being able to garner a critical mass of qualified students.  And if that’s the case, I actually want to give MSU a break for sticking to its guns on the academic credentials front.  A $1.3-1.7 million dollar loss is, after all, a small price to pay for maintaining institutional/academic integrity.


American University in Dubai. (n.d.). Tuition fees and expenses. Retrieved (10 July 2010) from http://www.aud.edu/TuitionFeesExpenses/fees_ugrad.asp

American University of Sharjah. (n.d.). Tuition and housing fees.  Retrieved (10 July 2010) from http://www.aus.edu/admissions/aye_2008-2009/ugrad/Tuition_housing%20Fees.php

Mills, A. (6 July 2010). Low enrollment led Michigan State U. to cancel most programs in Dubai. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved (10 July 2010) from http://chronicle.com/article/Low-Enrollment-Led-Michigan/66151/

New York University. (n.d.). NYUAD Student Guide. Retrieved (10 July 2010) from http://nyuad.nyu.edu/admissions/studentguide/network.html

Redden, E. (7 July 2010). Throwing in the towel.  Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved (10 July 2010) from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/07/07/msu

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Yesterday I wrote a snippet on the failure of Michigan State University’s Dubai campus and mentioned the need for more market research on the part of tertiary institutions before they decide to pitch a tent in the desert (or anywhere else for that matter).  Seems like I wasn’t the only one thinking this…

Today’s edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that ‘low enrollment led Michigan State U. to cancel most programs in Dubai‘ (Mills, 6 July 2010). Other than being just a little bit pleased at the fact that I beat the Chronicle to the punch, I’m happy to read a UPenn Graduate School of Education senior fellow’s comments on the matter:

What universities should learn from Michigan State’s foray into the gulf, Mr. Ruby says, is the need to do careful diligence in deciding whether to go the branch-campus route. Institutions may be better served by expanding study-abroad or cultivating more-varied partnerships than opening a full-fledged outpost overseas.
Universities also ought to consider what the curricular needs are locally, whether their institutions are well-positioned to fill those demands, and which other competitors are striving to respond to that market.  “You really have to do your market research,” Mr. Ruby said. (Mills, 6 July 2010)

In other words, get thyself a business plan.

Oh, wait — The Chronicle reports that MSU Dubai DID in fact have a business plan that projected “100 to 200 students for each graduating class” (Mills, 6 July 2010).  What I’d really like to know, especially if I were one of the donors to the MSU Foundation, which will be footing the bill to the tune of 1.3 million dollars, is what the research that went into that business plan really looked like.

If you’re as curious as I am, perhaps you’d like to contact the foundation at

MSU Foundation
2727 Alliance Drive, Suite C
Lansing, MI 48910
Phone: 517.353.9268
Fax: 517.353.9215
Email: msuf@msu.edu


Mills, A. (6 July 2010). Low enrollment led Michigan State U. to cancel most programs in Dubai. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved (7 July 2010) from http://chronicle.com/article/Low-Enrollment-Led-Michigan/66151/

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Last month I came across a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle (actually a reprint from the blog Crosscurrents from KALW):

Exporting public school teachers to Abu Dhabi?

The story doesn’t exactly fit in with the higher education theme of this blog, but it serves to remind me of a couple of financial matters:  the comparison of tertiary to non-tertiary salary packages and the oft-mentioned ‘tax free’ lure.  I’ll take them one at a time.

1.  Salary packages

Baba’s (9 June 2010) write-up includes a breakdown of the salary and benefits offered by TeachAway (the preeminent global teacher placement organisation for elementary through high school).  Here’s what TeachAway is offering certified teachers with bachelor degrees:

Monthly Salary
12,300-20,400AED, depending on experience and credentials
(approx. $4000-$6300CAD or $3350-$5500US)

Yearly air ticket provided for teacher, spouse and 3 dependents

Working Hours
35-40 hours/week, 5 days a week

Provided, inclusive of furniture allowance

Usually from end-June until mid-August;
plus all National holidays

Health Insurance
Covered by employer

Not bad, eh?  Unfortunately, the picture starts looking bad when we compare these numbers to the offers given by many universities to holders of doctorates.  A couple of months ago, I posted some information on the compensation package given to an assistant professor at KUSTAR:

basic:  14K/month
other allowances:  20/month
kids education: up to 54 k/ year
annual tickets
(No housing proved [sic] by the univ. of course)

Housing situation aside, note that the basic monthly salary for an assistant professor is at the LOW end of the basic monthly salary for, say, a third-grade math teacher.  I don’t know about you, but I think there’s something just a little bit wrong with that picture.

2.  The tax-free lure

Baba’s blog post includes the misleading line “And (drum roll) the salary is TAX-FREE.”

This is both not true and true.  Considering that the audience of the article seems to be laid-off teachers in the state of California, we can assume that mostly US citizens will be reading these words.  If you’re one of them, let me explain a little further:

The United States taxation system is, rather anomalously, based on citizenship (or resident alien status), not residence.  That means that no matter where you are in the world, and no matter where you earn your money, if you have a US passport or a green card, you owe Uncle Sam.  The fact that the UAE levies no income tax on its residents has absolutely no bearing on this fact.  This is the reason that Baba’s tax-free statement is not true.

On the other hand, taxpayers who are not residing in the US are eligible for an earned income exclusion ($91,400 in 2009) and exclusions or deductions on foreign housing amounts (IRS, n.d.).  Further, employees working abroad for non-US companies are not obligated to pay social security taxes.  Since the average teacher’s income (including housing and other benefits) is not likely to exceed that $91,400 by much, effectively no (or little) taxes will be owed.  So in this sense, Baba’s statement is true, but the canny job seeker should not assume that his salary is completely tax free without consulting an expert who is savvy in expat taxation issues.

Aside from making me angry, these two issues (the salary comparison and the misleading tax statement) have something in common:  they both serve to remind any job seeker to do his homework before signing on the dotted line.  Find out what the going rate is for education professionals in Abu Dhabi.  Consult a tax professional.  Talk to your prospective employer.

Unless, of course, you groove on the idea of making less money than someone with academic credentials that don’t hold a candle to yours, or on the idea of a nasty tax surprise a year or so down the road.


Baba, H. (9 June 2010). Exporting public school teachers to Abu Dhabi? Crosscurrents from KALW. Retrieved (6 July 2010) from http://kalwnews.org/blogs/hanababa/2010/06/09/exporting-public-school-teachers-abu-dhabi_407203.html

Internal Revenue Service. (n.d.). Foreign earned income exclusion. Retrieved (6 July 2010) from http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/international/article/0,,id=97130,00.html

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