Recruiting and Retaining Educators


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.

Funding Dilemma for UAE Federal Higher Education Institutions

During the past week the reporters at the National have written a series of articles about the state of education in the UAE. This is the second year where The National has focused on education its challenges and presenting possible solutions. In particular I would like to focus on the freeze on higher education funding.

Melanie Swan in a June 23rd article titled “Universities to start year with Dh428m funds shortfall” reported the folowing:

The Ministry of Finance has submitted a budget to Cabinet that will give the universities less than their entitlement under a formula drawn up by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in 2008.

Worst hit will be the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), the largest with 17 campuses, which will be short Dh333m, or 25.8 per cent .

Zayed University will be Dh32m, or 8 per cent, below its calculated figure. United Arab Emirates University, the leading federal institution in terms of research, will be short Dh63m, or 4.5 per cent. Sources at the universities say the amount has been calculated without consultation. They say places may have to be cut, campuses closed and courses decreased as the number of teachers cannot meet the growing number of students.

The funding required by HCT is based on its 19,000 students in the 2010-2011 year. The cut comes as the number of students is expected to grow in October by 3,000. “I don’t know how we’ll cope if we don’t get more financial support,” one academic said. “We are already stretched … we’re running out of space and numbers will be unmanageable if something isn’t done soon.”

Since 2009, sources say, there have been more than 20 meetings between officials from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, to try to resolve the funding formula issues.

In 2008, the Cabinet approved a student-based funding model to help universities plan resources, with a higher education co-ordinating council (HECC) to run the system.

The Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and the HECC agreed the model would be updated every two to three years.

In December 2009, the Cabinet approved total funding of Dh2.5 billion based on its funding formula. This, say university sources, was the last time it was fully applied. In 2009-2010, the amount submitted by the Ministry of Finance was about Dh140m less than requested by the Minister for Higher Education and approved by the Cabinet.

“There are so many ministries involved that it makes decision-making very complicated,” a government source said. “The Ministry of Finance wants semester-based funding but the institutions do it on an annual basis and incur annual costs.”

As you can see HCT will have the greatest challenge in making the budget. They have little choice but to provide a seat for every student which means up to 22,000 may enter the upcoming term. While HCT & others can and should make the entire operation more efficient which would save some money, it does not seem reasonable they can provide a quality level of instruction with less money.

What alternatives do institutions like HCT have when funding is not sufficient?  Perhaps close campuses in the rural Western Region to save some money. This is of course not fair to the students who live in the region and in all likelihood would not go to college. Perhaps, increase the student/teacher ratio from 16 or 20 to 1, to a 25 or 30 to 1. This method dilutes the ability of faculty to work closely with first year & second year students who are mostly not prepared for higher ed courses & would increase the drop-out rate. Another method is to deferred admission of thousands of freshman until the January 2012 term begins and they can fill in the slots of the students who dropped out. This option can be used but again the game plan to be successful means you would hope students fail or drop out due to lack of encouragement & guidance. It also means many students will becoming disenchanted and not go to college.

The federal higher education institutions provide higher/further education for nearly 40,000 Emirati’s. They will be the majority of the next generation workforce. It is difficult for the private, health, & education sector to find UAE National employees (especially men) at this juncture in history. Budget cuts or freezes further adds to the dilemma.

The UAE correctly has stated, it will move to a knowledge based economy in the upcoming years, yet with funding freezes in higher ed it seems this goal will not be achieved. By all means encourage and implement steps to improve the efficiency of the three federal institutions. Look at ways where they can save money via co-op buy educational products, better use of multi-casting & video conferencing to reduce travel and re-deploy staff. Maybe fewer extravagant events will help save cash & I’m sure there are other ways. However, fully fund the formula program designed in 2008 which would improve the quality of education and reduce drop-outs.  Don’t take the same path many states in the USA are currently taking in order to balance the budget. They are damaging  their future.

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