Happy Birthday Al-Fanar Independent Education News for the Arab World

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In April 2012 David Wheeler formerly Managing Editor, Global Edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education asked if I would be interested in attending a workshop and giving my input in the potential launch of a journal/paper.  The basic idea was to hear from the participants their views on a potential new publication with the tentative name of the Arab Journal of Higher Education. The Workshop was organized and sponsored by the Alexandria Trust and was held in in Cairo May 12-14.

Forty eight of us including many Arab academics and western expats who worked in the region were in attendance during the two and half days. It was a passionate group who had varied and strong views about what a new publication should be, but unanimous in the view a higher education publication which focused on the Arab world was needed.  Al-Fanar as it’s now called states its mission is to, “publish independent news and analysis and serve as a platform for dialogue among institutions within and beyond the Arab world.”

One year ago Al-Fanar began publishing its online paper in English and in Arabic. It has slowly but surely progressed and has been gaining a loyal audience.

On the 11th of January, 2014 Al-Fanar ran a series of articles on the compensation packages of professors in the Public-university in 12 Arab countries.

ü  A Survey of Public-University Professors’ Pay

ü  Employment in the Gulf: Not Always What it Seems

ü  The Economic Struggle of Public-University Professors

ü  Graphic and FAQs: Arab Public-University Salaries

The series brought to light the economic status of higher education professors through the region. In Graphics and FAQs Arab Public-University Salaries they stated:

This survey is the first regional survey of the compensation of Arab public-university professors. The vast majority of Arab youth are educated at public universities, and so the professors at them are responsible for shaping the next generation. But in many countries, they have little or no economic motivation to take up this important profession. While money isn’t the only motivation, it is an important one, and compensation can show the priorities of governments and societies. This survey is not necessarily an argument for more spending on higher education–economic data indicates that education spending in many Arab countries is strong, but does not always seem to effectively produce qualified graduates.

The series broke new ground showing the economic challenges of being a professor in the Arab world. The stories were well written, presented data not well known to the higher education community, and will be a bench mark on compensation for future studies.

I was excited when David Wheeler told me of his plans in 2011 while I was visited him in DC and honored to be one of the people asked to attend the Workshop in May 2012.  With Al-Fanar just finishing its first year of publication it’s apparent to me they have succeeded as an independent news platform for higher education in the Arab World.

If you have not subscribed for this free publication I would recommend you do so. Go to Al-Fanar Media and click subscribe.

Happy Birthday and keep up the good work.

Can the UAE Recruit Enough Teachers to Meet its Educational Needs

The task to recruit K-12 teachers for the UAE public and private school systems seems straightforward.  It’s just a matter of advertising on the web; go on the road to job fairs maybe a few ads in the paper and “They Shall Come.” Here are a few examples of openings across the country:

  • Dubai: Secondary English Teachers, Salary: £18,612 – £30,672
  • Abu Dhabi: Teachers, Salary: Between 12,300 – 19,000 AED per month ($3350-$5100)
  • Al Ain: Elementary Teachers, Salary: £17,496 – £21,876 /  $26,136 – $32,676 per annum
  • Fujairah: English Teacher (Up to KS5), £24,000 per annum
  • Sharjah:  English/Business Studies Teacher), salary of up to 15,500AED a month ($41,00USD/£2800)

In most cases the additional benefits to salary are:

  • Tax Free income
  • 2 or 3 year contract
  • Full Medical Benefits (Single/Married
  • Sponsorship: Single / Married teaching couples
  • Airfare: Provided in full
  • Housing: Provided, with furnishing stipend
  • Bonus: End of contract severance of 1 month’s salary for each year worked

The examples are job openings posted on various sites during this past month.  So why is there a recruiting problem? Teachers should be coming from everywhere on the planet but it appears qualified teachers are not so easy to recruit. The pay seems reasonable however there are huge discrepancies in the pay scales of teachers across different curriculum and private/public schools.

Emirates 24/7 interviewed in 2012, Clive Pierrepont, Director of Communications at Taaleem schools who stated, “The very basic salary in an international school in the country starts at Dh8,000 per month and goes up to Dh35,000.”  An assistant teacher gets up to Dh8,000  whereas teachers can take home anything between Dh10,000 to 20,000 per month. The head of primary/secondary get paid Dh22,000 to Dh25,000 and principals get paid Dh35,000+.

“The average salary of teachers in the UAE is of Dh9,750 with average salaries ranging between Dh3,500 and Dh16,000,” stated Suhail Masri, VP of Sales at Bayt.com. Teachers in the Indian/Pakistani curriculum tend to be paid salaries on the lower end of the spectrum.”

“Teaching staff probably earn about 80 per cent of what they would get in their home countries – like the US, UK and Australia but people who come here know what their disposable income is at the end of the day. The benefits of a tax-free environment in the UAE cannot be discounted and if all the benefits like free housing are taken into consideration, the overall package would be comparable with the global average.”

Pierrepont added: “We have one salary scale for people performing the same role. The only difference is in the benefits given to people recruited locally or from overseas. In some organizations there can be several salary scales – so people from different ethnic backgrounds get paid differently but can actually be doing the same job. We as an equal opportunity employer, have never approved of this sort of discrimination.  Also other organizations may pay part of their salaries as ‘allowances’, this greatly affects the employees gratuity at the end of their contract and teachers should avoid schools that employ this sharp practice to cut costs.”

The teaching environment has challenges with pay discrimination due to nationality but I doubt this has significantly reduces the number of teachers who will come to the UAE.  There appears to be another issue.

In a May 2013 story published by the National, Saeed Al Kaabi, the head of the Sharjah Education Zone told teachers and FNC members at a public meeting that private schools were finding it extremely difficult to hire teachers from Arab countries suffering political tensions because of security concerns.

Private school heads agreed, particularly as many teachers are hired from Egypt and Syria. “It is difficult these days,” said one principal, whose school had begun to recruit more aggressively in countries including Jordan and Morocco. “It’s difficult for them to recruit from some countries. We are very cautious when we recruit teachers. Before, it wasn’t a concern.”

A possible solution is to focus on recruiting Emirati’s to the teaching profession. There are men and women who are not unemployed and it makes sense for UAE Nationals to teach their own children.

When challenged by a FNC member, to recruit more UAE Nationals, Al Kaabi said the problem was political and a solution was needed. “If I stopped [schools] from bringing in someone from abroad then I must give an alternative, give a list of Emiratis who can work. Tell them if you will pay 8,000 AED, we as a Government will pay another 8,000 AED.”

A principal, who declined to give his name, said it had also been difficult to hire Emirati teachers. “We would love to recruit local people but unfortunately they don’t come,” he said. “At government schools they get even higher salaries and more benefits than in the private sector.” A recruiter at the discussion on Sunday night told the council she had been offering “appealing salaries” for Emiratis for three years, and had not received a single application. “No one even called to ask about the salary.”  She said the ministry should remove an Emiratisation requirement, but Mr. Al Rahoomi strongly objected, saying there were still many unemployed Emiratis.

However is that a realistic solution?  The National reported in 2012 that HCT graduated six Emirati men who will be taking up teaching positions in Abu Dhabi government schools. It is a momentous occasion for them, and equally so for the education system: they are the first Emirati men to graduate from a teaching college in more than three years. Attracting men to the teaching profession is a global problem, but it is especially so in the UAE, where an Abu Dhabi Emirati teacher’s salary of Dh16,000 to Dh20,000 is not competitive to what their peers are earning and prestige is at stake.”It’s a profession that is looked down upon,” said Mr. Al Mesaabi, 23. “I face this problem every time I meet friends. They ask me why I am still pursuing this and say my career will go nowhere. Not one of them has ever encouraged me to continue.”

In a 2010 report, issued by the KHDA for 2010 showed that 1,787 of the 3,154 teachers working in the state system were Emirati. This broke down to 123 men and 1,664 women. But 2011 figures shows 1,237 Emirati women are teaching in Dubai’s public schools and only 33 male nationals. In Abu Dhabi, 4,319 of the 10,854 teachers employed by ADEC are UAE nationals.

If the expansion of K-12 schools goes as predicted, the providers who need quality teachers must find a solution to recruitment. Perhaps increasing benefits and pay rates will improve retention and bring more westerners to the UAE. Perhaps they can devise a campaign, which teaching will be an honored and well-paid profession for Emirati’s, but at best that will take time.  Personally I am intrigued by  Mr. Al Kaabi suggestion that after decades of service to the country “raising the next generations”, teachers should be offered a path to Emirati citizenship.

However FNC council members said this was the concern of the Naturalization and Residency Department, and not related to education.  This is absolutely true but it’s everyone’s duty that lives in the UAE to seek a solution so the nation has sufficient quality of teachers for children. Hopefully we will see more UAE National join this honorable profession.

Sources: The National 2012 & 2013,  Emirates 24/7 2012, various job posting sites