University of Birmingham UCU members vote to refuse Dubai campus work

22 November 2018

UCU members at the University of Birmingham will turn down teaching at the university's Dubai campus as part of protests at the university's failure to stand up for human rights and academic freedom

UCU members overwhelmingly backed a motion that called for staff refuse to engage with the Dubai campus, unless explicitly required to in their contract. The union said the vote was the culmination of months of frustration at trying to get the university to take its responsibilities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seriously.

The University of Birmingham has been under fire recently for watering down a commitment to LGBT rights at its campus in Dubai. As well as concerns over the rights of staff and students on the campus, the union said it had serious misgivings about the possible exploitation of migrant workers in the construction of the next phase of the campus.

The votes comes the day after British PhD student Matthew Hedges was sentenced to life imprisonment in a UAE jail for spying. His hearing lasted five minutes with no lawyer present. 

UCU Birmingham branch president James Brackley said: 'UCU members at the University of Birmingham are outraged at the sentence of Matthew Hedges and the university's refusal to address the serious issues we have raised regarding its campus in Dubai. The university must now engage meaningfully with us to provide guarantees about the safety and academic freedom of staff and students in Dubai.'

UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup said: 'The imprisonment of Matthew Hedges is a shocking example of politicians letting British citizens down. The more we learn about this case the less confidence any of us can have in the government to act in our best interests abroad.

'British universities and politicians cannot abdicate their responsibility or duty of care in places like the UAE. For all the talk about taking the best of British to other parts of the world, there are huge concerns about how migrant workers are treated, academic freedoms and human rights.'

The motion calls on staff to:

  • turn down teaching in Dubai, unless it is explicitly stated as a requirement in your contract or workload
  • not to volunteer materials for the delivery of modules on the Dubai campus, unless it is explicitly stated as a requirement in your contract or workload
  • not to engage with or volunteer programme (re)design for Dubai based programs, unless it is explicitly stated as a requirement in your contract or workload
  • not to volunteer for internal or external exam boards for Dubai based programmes, unless it is explicitly stated as a requirement in your contract or workload
  • not to sign up for any Dubai training unless it is compulsory
  • turn down any other duties relating to the Dubai campus as you feel able to within the terms of your contract and normal working practices.

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