Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the United Arab Emirates to my family, friends, and followers. As 2014 is about to begin, I have been in the UAE for five years and ready to start my sixth year in February. During this time I have seen a great deal of change in the education profession and have been thinking about the future status of the expatriates who works in the field. In particular I want to discuss the cost of living and why this may this is now becoming a crisis for retention and recruitment.
During 2013 a number of significant changes have occurred which affects the education sector as well as others. The Emirization movement transitioned from lip service to an action policy. This is having a significant effect on the hiring or retaining of administrative staff. In some cases schools like federally funded higher education institutions, the administration is directing 30% of the administrative staff be UAE Nationals by the end of 2014. The only way it can be accomplished is to make some current staff redundant and replace them with Emirati’s. At other universities the plan is to hire only UAE National for open positions or new jobs approved. The one area exempt so far is faculty and teachers. This is due to the lack of UAE Nationals who have the necessary academic qualifications or in some cases the lack of interest in joining the K-12 teaching community due to salary and workload. While this is painful to the expat community I do not object to the concept. It is their country and as long as they can find the qualified personnel to do the job so be it. I think any of us who moved here expected this to happen.
A more significant area of concern is the cost of schooling. In May and June I wrote a series of pieces on the expansion of K-12 schools, job availability and the challenge of hiring qualified teachers. While there is an increase in schools there is a significant increase in fees to attend these schools. In a December 24th article in Emirates 24/7 titled” Letter to Santa: Dubai residents’ X’mas wish list” Bindu Suresh Rai wrote;
The rising school fee has remained a bone of contention with many families who are unable to afford the annual hikes. Added to the annual expense is the cost of books, uniforms, extracurricular fees and monthly miscellaneous expenditures that, some parents calculate, spills into additional thousands of dirhams over and above the tuition. Despite the initiatives taken by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the cap on school fees still draws a blurred line between commercialization of institutions and the compromise on education for the children involved. Do high fees really promise quality education for our kids, Santa, or is this simply a revenue generating exercise?
The cost of education in the UAE is rising everywhere. Most organizations in education sector includes in its package compensation for the cost of education for children in K-12. However, it is not keeping up with the increase in fees and has either stagnated or are being reduced. This will make it increasingly difficult to recruit teachers or university faculty who has children from 5-18.
Possibly the biggest crisis is the cost of housing which is making it difficult to recruit or retain expats. The expats are talking about if they can continue to keep their flats, move into smaller space or leave. Two examples of the cost increase impact are stated in recent news articles. In the 24th of December story titled “UAE property prices in 2013 – will we be forever blowing bubbles?” Lucy Barnard writes;
Rents too, which had started to increase in 2012, were spiraling out of control in Dubai as landlords sought to take advantage of rising prices. Landlords in some locations increased rents for vacant apartments by as much as 40 per cent. And lawyers reported an outbreak of rent disputes between landlords and tenants as the latter complained that they were being asked to pay more than the cap set by Dubai Land Department, prompting the emirate’s Government to open a new rent dispute body to cope with demand. Even Abu Dhabi, suffering from an oversupply of housing built during the global financial crisis, started to experience some increases in house prices and rents, although these were generally limited to the capital’s new master planned areas. Soon Cluttons, the property broker, was reporting price increases of 11.2 per cent during the second quarter and 14.4 per cent in the three months to the end of September, while rents rose 4.5 per cent then 1 per cent over the same periods.
In a more sobering story published in The Gulf News on December 28th titled; “Scrapping of rent cap worries Al Ain residents” by Aftab Kazmi states;
The Abu Dhabi government’s decision to do away with the annual rent cap seems to have left several Al Ain residents reeling. They have sought a proper regulatory mechanism to oversee rents in the city. In some cases, rents have gone up by 20 to 40 per cent, forcing residents to move to cheaper or illegally sub-divided villas in less-than-ideal locations. Private sector employees and small businessmen are the ones to have been affected the most. The cap, which limited yearly rental increases to five per cent, was removed by the Abu Dhabi government last month. Rents are now determined by property managers and landlords. “Property managers are now taking undue advantage and have even withdrawn maintenance services in my building,” Mohammad Farouq, a resident, said.
With no rent increase caps, rental fees are increasing at all locations in the UAE. This may be the case for the next 2-5 years. The compensation packages by educational institutions generally have housing allowance but are not being increased and contracts signed by most faculty are 2-3 years in length and do not have inflation clauses.
The person who intends to stay in the UAE or is considering working in the region must take these issues into consideration. Human Resources personnel have a real challenge in bringing to the UAE bright and talented personnel. The cost of recruitment is high in the first place and to lose personnel after 1-3 years and then find a qualified replacement is an additional cost.
I truly believe the UAE leadership wants to hire the best and the brightest to help make the country a leader in education and research but due to out of control costs and the lack of compensation to cover expenses they may not achieve this goal.