University of Birmngham Dubai academic boycott poster with tall buildings representing gravestones with the words 'RIP human rights', 'RIP LGBTQ rights', 'RIP academic freedom' and 'RIP workers rights'.

Evacuation of University of Birmingham Dubai campus raises more serious concerns for safety of staff and students

Last week (4 July), Birmingham UCU learned that the University of Birmingham’s controversial Dubai campus had been evacuated due to equipment failure, with at least one member of staff allegedly requiring medical assistance following the incident.

Disturbingly, university management failed to notify designated union Health and Safety representatives about the incident and, one week on from the incident, has only provided a brief statement in response to direct questioning from Birmingham UCU, stating:

“There was a minor incident with some IT equipment which necessitated an evacuation of the office for safety reasons. The relevant H&S body attended and confirmed that the building was safe for staff to return. Nobody was injured and for the short period of time the office was closed staff worked in a suitable alternative location.”

Since learning of the incident, Birmingham UCU Health and Safety representatives have actively sought more information and clarification from management about the safety incident, how it occurred, and what actions the University will be taking to reduce the chances of the same thing happening again.

Does the University’s Health and Safety policy apply to Dubai?

Birmingham UCU has also called on management to provide clear answers as to how the University’s Health and Safety policy statement, applies to the Dubai campus. The policy statement says: “This Policy applies to all premises and activities within the control of the University” and: “Collaboration with colleagues and in particular Trades Unions is also an important element of our approach to Health and Safety”. Yet how can this policy reasonably be applied given Trade unions are illegal in Dubai, making it problematic to say the least for recognised Health and Safety representatives to operate in the same way as they do on the Edgbaston campus?

Silence from management

At the time of publication, management have so far failed to provide any further information beyond the initial statement, despite an initial indication that a more detailed response would be available by the early part of this week.

A spokesperson for Birmingham UCU said: “Last week’s campus evacuation and the failure to notify designated Health and Safety representatives once again raises serious concerns over the University’s dealings in Dubai.

“In its Health and Safety policy, the University claims it seeks ‘to promote co-operation between the University and its employees in all matters concerning health, safety and welfare at work’. Sadly, the lack of transparency over both the initial incident and the unwillingness to answer even basic questions over how Health and Safety is being managed on the campus will only serve to reinforce the serious staff and student concerns over the Dubai campus.

“We call on the University to follow its own Health and Safety policy, which ‘applies to all premises and activities within the control of the University’ and provide clear answers to staff and students about what happened last Thursday and how Health and Safety is being managed. We also once again call on the University to listen to staff and students’ serious concerns and agree to meaningful negotiations with us about the Dubai campus.”

In November 2018, Birmingham UCU members voted unanimously to support an academic boycott of the University of Birmingham’s Dubai campus. Members voted for the boycott after the University repeatedly refused to engage with us over serious concerns about staff and student safety, academic freedom and the welfare of the migrant construction workforce that is expected to build the new campus. To date, the University has refused to meaningfully engage with UCU and the other recognised trade unions over the Dubai campus.

Know more about what’s going on at the Dubai campus? Tell BUCU

Have any information which could help us get a better understanding of what happened on the Dubai campus last Thursday or how things are operating more generally? Please get in touch with us on or contact one of our Committee Officers. Any information you share will be treated in the strictest confidence.


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