Following the jailing and pardoning of the British academic Matthew Hedges, university staff from across the country have been signing and sharing an open letter expressing their deep concern that universities are placing profits generated by international satellite campuses over core values of academic freedom and human rights.
The open letter notes Birmingham UCU members’ unanimous vote to support an academic boycott of the new University of Birmingham Dubai campus, as a result of deep concerns over the safeguarding of staff and students, and the lack of transparency by university management over the use of forced migrant labour. The letter’s signatories “call on staff at other institutions to bring similar motions to address the neo-colonial practices of their institutions overseas”.
The signatories also pledge to support Birmingham UCU members’ boycott by “refusing or resigning from voluntary roles associated with UoB Dubai such as external examiner posts, visiting lectureships and journal board memberships, until existing issues of safeguarding LGBTQ rights, ensuring academic freedoms and the abuse of migrant labour have been fully addressed.”
The pledges of support from around the country demonstrates the strength of feeling within the UK academic community about the willingness of some universities to water down staff and student rights in order to secure lucrative international business.
James Brackley, President of the University of Birmingham Branch of UCU said: “The University has failed to provide clear assurances over LGBTQ rights, academic freedom, and the treatment of migrant construction workers who are expected to build the new campus, despite these having been raised by the campus trade unions, the University’s Rainbow Network, The Guild of Students and, most recently, the Shadow Minister for International Development and local Edgbaston MP Preet Kaur Gill.
“Due to these serious concerns, which were highlighted by the jailing of Matthew Hedges, our members voted unanimously last week for an academic boycott of the Dubai campus and called once again on the University to enter into meaningful negotiations with the recognised campus trade unions to protect the safety of staff and students on the Dubai campus.”
Open letter on academic freedoms, LGBTQ rights and workers’ rights in UAE