Archive for the ‘Working Conditions’ Category

Just like the US

Something during my regular morning crawl around the ether made me have another look at the HCT career opportunities — all 75 of them.  And I’ll bet there will be a few more once the existing faculty lines up some new jobs.

But I don’t personally have any reason to dislike the Higher Colleges of Technology (yet), so I’m going to offer my help by doing a bit of editing for them – gratis.  I’ll begin with the description of an HCT career on the page titled Working at the HCT:

Here’s the original:

The working environment here is similar to what you would encounter in any major western educational institution. The typical day will depend on which position you are in and which program. We are open from Sunday to Thursday with Friday and Saturday as our weekend. Teaching can take place between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. and you may work different shifts depending on the classes you teach. Faculty usually teach 20 periods per week and are expected to be in the college for at least 8 hours per day. One of our aims is to teach good work habits to students and another reason is that students will often come to faculty desks to seek help. Non-teaching staff generally work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Higher Colleges of Technology, 2010)

And here’s my edited version:

The working environment here is NOTHING LIKE what you would encounter in any major western educational institution. The typical day will depend on which position you are in and which program. We are open from Sunday to Thursday with Friday and Saturday as our weekend. Teaching can take place between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. and you may work different shifts depending on the classes you teach. Faculty usually teach 20 periods per week, more than twice the load at a western university, and are expected to be in the college for at least 8 hours per day, which should elicit a hearty laugh from any western academic . One of our aims is to teach good work habits to students and another reason is that students will often come to faculty desks to seek help and the concept of making an appointment in advance and keeping it eludes them. Non-teaching staff generally work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

C’mon, HCT folks — I appreciate your printing the working conditions, but don’t tell me they’re what I’d find in any other western educational institution — unless, of course, you’re talking about a level far below that of tertiary.


Higher Colleges of Technology. (2010). Working at the HCT. Retrieve (21 Nov 2010) from http://recruit.hct.ac.ae/WebForms/working_at_the_hct.aspx


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Funny the people one meets when walking around the neighbourhood, buying produce at the Lulu’s, or getting a manicure at the nail spa.  They all have a story to tell, and some of those stories go like this:

I’m unemployed now.  After X years of teaching at Y University, I was suddenly informed that my contract would not be renewed.  Never got an explanation.

or maybe like this:

A colleague of mine was fired after refusing to change the grade of an emirati student, even though the grade had been second-marked and externally reviewed.

or this:

I wish I’d kept my job in Canada.  It didn’t pay as well as the offer I got from ABC University, but now all of my colleagues are moving ahead with their research and I don’t even have a lab.

and sometimes like this:

How is it possible that a place like HCT continues to recruit faculty with all that bad press?  Have you SEEN those blogs?

I know two types of people working in academia here:  those who keep their heads down and their mouths shut, and those who tell it like it is.  That second group is hard to find and I expect it’s because there just aren’t many venues for them to share their stories — Dave’s ESL Café is not tertiary-focussed, The Chronicle Middle East Forum is too far under the radar, and the few higher education blogs that have cropped up in the UAE are dedicated to one institution.  Or perhaps those with stories have since moved out of the desert and don’t see the point in relating their experiences to would-be newcomers.  So what to do?

I’m happy to provide the venue, but I can’t do it without your help.  If you’ve got a story to tell (positive or negative), send it on in.  Here are the rules:

  1. Keep it clean.  I don’t mind occasional profanity, but too many verbal nasties will degrade this blog.
  2. Keep it anonymous.  I don’t need to know who you are.
  3. Keep it factual.  No need to exaggerate for effect, and references (where appropriate) will add to your, and my, credibility.

I’ll look forward to hearing from you.


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in your contract, that is.

Here you are, ready to sign on the dotted line (yes, I read the search strings used to find this site and I know that many of you are, as I’ve done, looking for informative scraps of information that will help you make the final decision about the offer that may bring you out to the desert for the Fall 2010 term).  And here I am, your friendly neighbourhood whistleblower (or tell-it-like-it-really-is person), ready to help out.

(You may be thinking that I’m on some sort of vindictive rant and that anything I say here may be happily discounted.  That’s not true.  But I AM telling the truth — a truth you likely won’t be hearing from that smiling face in the HR department. What you do with this truth as you contemplate moving thousands of miles from home to a job that may ultimately result in the early demise of your academic career is up to you.  But I ain’t tellin’ no lies.  And I defy anyone who works here in the desert to find fault with the facts.)

Last month I sent up a few salary package comparisons based on information I’ve collected from various forums and articles (Money money money, 13 May 2010). It’s now time to talk about the bits and pieces of those salary packages in more detail:

  • The base salary
    This is, well, rather what it sounds like — your salary not including any other benefits or allowances.  It’s relevant for a couple of reasons.  First of all, this is the basis on which your end-of-service benefit will be calculated, the rule being one month’s base salary for every full year worked.  Second, it’s the number you should be comparing to your current salary.  While you might be tempted to look at the whole package, thinking ‘Holy numbers, Batman — an academic salary of 400,000 Dhs!’ —  don’t do that.  Look at the base and assess it by itself.
  • Annual leave
    This is very likely going to be stated in terms of calendar days, not working days.  That means that while you are on annual leave, any weekends or government holidays that fall within that period are counted as leave.  (I know, you’re probably wondering how that works when normal weekends aren’t counted as leave, but I have no good answer to give you.)  Just keep in mind that ’45 calendar days’ does NOT translate to nine weeks of leave, but rather six weeks.
    Now for the fun part.  You might be thinking that you will have a choice as to when to take those six weeks of leave.  Well, surprise, surprise, that may not necessarily be the case.  Some institutions will force you to take leave during the time between semesters (whether or not you have course prep to do).  Some will stipulate that annual leave must be taken during certain periods of the summer when the university is not in session — whether you happen to be teaching summer courses or not.  Some will change their policies overnight, without consulting you, and leaving you with no recourse.
  • Tickets ‘home’
    They say home is where the heart is, but over here, home depends on the colour of your passport.  You may have grown up and gone through years of graduate school in sunny California, gotten yourself a prized green card, and paid your taxes like a good boy, but if you’ve got a Syrian passport, guess where you’ll be going on your leave?  That’s right.  It’s not that you can’t go back to LA, it’s just that you won’t be supplied with a ticket for that destination.  Don’t have any family in Syria?  Oh well, that’s too bad. But wait, there’s MORE:
    Remember those business class tickets for you and your family members? Well, I’m sorry to say it, but you may not be flying up front after all.  Some institutions don’t actually supply the tickets, but rather cash-in-lieu — and I guarantee you that the cap on the cash amount, in some cases, will not come close to the actual cost of the tickets (especially since you’ll be taking your annual leave during high season).  Check on this with the smiling gal from HR.  Then check again.  Actually, there’s no real reason to bother, because the policy might change.
  • Your children’s education
    If you’re seriously contemplating a move over here with spouse and kids, you’ve (I hope) been doing a little homework on the cost and availability of schooling.  And if you have, you know it’s expensive — particularly for those coveted positions in western-curriculum schools.  If you haven’t, know this:  the annual cost per child can easily reach 40,000 Dhs (and beyond).  That’s probably about two and a half times the base monthly salary you’ve been offered.   Fortunately, universities provide an education allowance for the young’uns.  Unfortunately, there may be a few suprises down the line.
    First of all, you need to find out when your employer-to-be is going to start providing that educational allowance.  Three years old?  Four?  Five?  The difference could mean watching a few months’ worth of your hard earned dirhams disappear.  Second, whatever the starting age is, get it in writing. Then get it in writing again.  Ask what will happen if the policy changes after you’ve signed in blood on that dotted line.  And if you’re thinking that this sort of bait-and-switch will NEVER, ever happen to you, think again.
  • Allowances
    Ah, those lovely allowances.  The ones that make the offer for Assistant Professor of X look like a dream come true.  First off, the relocation allowance.  You should be getting one, so don’t take no for an answer. And it should be enough to cover bringing over what you need, as well as bringing back all of your belongings once you’ve woken up from the dream.  Second, do make sure that the same amount of freight is provided for on both ends — an allowance to bring 2,000 lbs of freight over here isn’t worth very much if the allowance to ship it back only covers half of it.
  • Housing
    The word on the street is that universities provide housing.  Not a housing ‘allowance’, but the actual place to live, dwelling, edifice, apartment, whateveryouwannacallit. Well, it appears that all of them do, save one — KUSTAR.  That institution will provide you with an extra cash allowance on top of your basic salary every month to cover housing, but YOU need to go out and find it (don’t worry, perhaps Smiling HR Gal will give you a list of estate agents as found on page whatever of this year’s Explorer Guide). And then you need to pay for it.  In two checks per year — at the most (rent here is paid on a yearly basis, up front — if you still don’t get it, think of it this way:  you’ll be shelling out upwards of $25,000 before you can move in and writing a six-month post-dated check for the same amount). For anyone just out of graduate school, that rent-up-front policy here in Abu Dhabi probably isn’t going to work very well, so be prepared to ask for a loan from any employer who offers cash instead of the real deal (or from the bank when that employer tells you to get bent), and then be prepared to put on the golden handcuffs:  if you’ve got a loan for housing that had to be paid up front, it’s going to make it extremely difficult to leave.  And by ‘extremely difficult’ I mean something along the lines of a midnight drive to the airport and no chances of ever returning.

This all may seem pretty frightening to some of you.  To others, it may seem wildly exaggerated.  Here’s what I know:  there are good folks over here who, had they known the fine print prior to signing, very likely would have thought twice about it.

If you’re brave enough to push forward, welcome, again, to

Academics in the Desert

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Well, folks, it’s that time of year again — the time I dread most as an academic out here in the desert.

It’s time to submit marks.

Grading is an interesting exercise where we presently are, mostly because there are more layers of protection than the average Mt. Everest climber needs.  Grades need to be approved — and I’m not talking about approved by the faculty assigning them.  Grades need to be made official by a special committee.  Grades need to fall into some sort of range that someone, somewhere, read is appropriate for students at a certain level.  Grading directives guidelines need to be reviewed in countless faculty meetings.  And in a particularly Agatha-Christie-esque way, grades cannot be discussed with students before every other box is ticked.

There are places in the world where the same sort of thing happens, albeit with slightly more respect for the terminal degree held by the grader.  The UK comes to mind, with its anonymous marking, double-marking, external review, really weird rules that no one can earn more than 85% (go ahead — try giving a multiple choice test of 20 questions and figure out how exactly to assign 85% to the student who gets them all correct), and so forth.  The US is waaaay on the other end of the spectrum:  professors are like little kings in their classes, and not just when it comes to marking, but in designing a course syllabus, creating assessments, selecting textbooks, choosing whether or not to have final exams (and even choosing the format they’ll be in — try writing a multiple choice final here in the UAE), failing students without fear of losing a job, and so forth.  And the US (last I heard) has managed to end up with some pretty good universities.

The grading oversight here is just one of many ingredients in a rich mix of policies and procedures that seem to be designed to whittle away at any sense of academic freedom a newbie desert academic might dream of.

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