Last week, The Guardian carried a report stating that controversial plans by the University of Liverpool to open up a campus in Egypt have been scrapped in the face of opposition from academics, students and others. Will Liverpool’s decision, as well as disturbing developments such as the arrest of the British PhD student Matthew Hedges on a study trip to the UAE, prompt University of Birmingham management to re-think their plans to build a campus in Dubai?
Egypt and Dubai: troubling similarities
Like Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt has an unenviable record on human rights. The respected nongovernmental organisation Human Rights Watch has identified in Egypt systemic police torture, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances to silence political dissent. They also note: “The crackdown on LGBT people has grown increasingly vicious, along with the continued repression of labor activists.”
The recent arrest of Matthew Hedges, a British PhD student from Durham University on a study trip to UAE, brought the reality of the real risks facing students and staff in countries with what the University of Liverpool’s own briefing euphemistically described as a “challenging” operating environment.
Birmingham UCU, along with other campus trade unions and the University’s LGBTQ staff network, have consistently sought to get clear answers from management as to how they will effectively address the seriousness risks facing staff and students in Dubai. Most recently, Birmingham UCU, in conjunction with Unison, Unite and GMB campus trade unions, sent a joint letter to University management, expressing concern about the lack of adequate and clear assurances that rights will be upheld while working in Dubai.
James Brackley, Birmingham UCU President, said: “We welcome the University of Liverpool’s decision to scrap plans for a campus in Egypt and hope it prompts University of Birmingham management to rethink their plans for Dubai.
“The University of Birmingham’s Dubai campus has been opened with no consultation with the recognised trade unions, in breach of our procedure agreements, and we are disappointed that we have had no opportunity to collectively engage in consultations on the development of Dubai policies.
“We are concerned at the lack of assurances over academic freedom, over LGBTQ rights, and at the increasingly alarming information coming to light on “phase 2″ campus expansion and the use of migrant labour. Following recent negotiations we encourage the University to positively and seriously engage on these issues, which has so far, unfortunately, been lacking.”
Dubai or bust?
Despite the University of Liverpool’s decision to scrap plans for a new Egypt campus, University of Birmingham management appear intent on pressing ahead with plans to establish a permanent presence in Dubai. In September, the University welcomed its first cohort of students in Dubai and the University of Birmingham Dubai website is continuing to advertise applications for September 2019. Ultimately, time will tell whether the University of Birmingham management will rethink their decision to be the first Russell Group university to establish a campus in Dubai.