Birmingham UCU has accused the University of putting commercial interests ahead of safety and human rights as it officially unveiled plans to start construction of a second phase of its controversial campus, despite staff voting for an academic boycott of the project and ongoing revelations of human rights violations by UAE authorities.
On 13 February, the University officially announced it had signed a deal with the TECOM company to build and manage a purpose-built campus in Dubai, with the aim of expanding the campus to 4,500 students by 2021. Birmingham UCU previously revealed in October 2018 that TECOM’s parent company, Dubai Holding LLC, is majority owned by the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and is responsible for major domestic infrastructure projects in a country where Human Rights Watch notes “Migrant construction workers face serious exploitation”.
On the same day as the University of Birmingham was inking the deal, Issa Ahmad, a 26 year old British football fan from Wolverhampton, flew back to the UK after being detained by UAE security officials for wearing a Qatar football shirt at football tournament. Mr Ahmad alleges he was stabbed in prison, and deprived of sleep, food and water for several days while being held in a security building. This is the latest in a long line of rights violations associated with the UAE, including the jailing of British academic Matthew Hedges, which the University of Birmingham refused to comment on.
Two days after Mr Ahmad’s return to the UK, Vice Chancellor Sir David Eastwood, speaking at the Vice Chancellor’s Open Staff Forum event, sought to reassure concerned staff about the University’s plans in Dubai. Eastwood gave a bland reassurance that the University “Wouldn’t go there [to Dubai] if it couldn’t give those reassurances [on safety]. Eastwood went several steps further, somehow managing to describe Dubai as a “relatively straightforward, comfortable and relatively open environment”.
Later that evening, the Dubai project team was awarded the top prize at the University’s annual BUAFTA staff awards ceremony, in a development which highlighted management’s unwillingness to acknowledge the serious concerns which continue to dog the project.
A spokesperson for Birmingham UCU said: “The decision to sign a contract with TECOM to build a second phase of the Dubai campus shows not only is the University is determined to press ahead with the Dubai project, disregarding the serious concerns raised by staff, students, politicians, ans which generated substantial critical media coverage.
“We call on the University to do the right thing and enter into meaningful negotiations with the recognised trade unions to protect the safety of staff and students on the Dubai campus and to provide credible assurances that it is committed to protecting academic freedom and safeguarding the welfare standards of the migrant workers who are expected to build the new campus.”
In November 2018, Birmingham UCU members voted unanimously to support an academic boycott of the Dubai campus. Birmingham UCU is calling on the University to:
- Enter into meaningful negotiations with the trade unions to protect the safety of staff and students on the Dubai campus.
- Guarantee academic freedom for UoB researchers working in the UAE.
- Ensure that migrant workers in the UAE are not abused or exploited in the construction of the Dubai campus.
More information about the academic boycott and ways to support it can be found here: