Reece Patrick Roberts, the President of the Guild of Students at the University of Birmingham, visited the newly-opened campus in Dubai last week
Speaking to Redbrick News, Roberts described the trip to Dubai as ‘far from shaking hands or taking pictures outside shiny new buildings. It was to recognise the genuine concerns of students around welfare, student rights, and academic freedoms’.
Between September 9th and 13th, Roberts and International Officer Joanne Park visited the UAE to address the concerns students have raised regarding the new campus in the Middle-Eastern country. A full report will be issued in the near future.
Roberts went to the UAE with questions regarding the campus from a range of sources. The ‘questions I asked whilst out in Dubai were shaped by concerns my team and I had as officers but also, more personally, as a gay officer’. The questions were aimed at other university’s staff, students and to government officials while in the country.
In an exclusive statement for Redbrick, Roberts described the discussions held with New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), Heriot-Watt University, Middlesex University, The Government of Dubai and the staff at University of Birmingham Dubai. The most important conversations held were with students of NYUAD and Heriot-Watt, ‘ensuring the message I was receiving from staff was being translated into the student experience’.
A primary issue raised was how sexual misconduct would be addressed and prevented at the new campus. One example of how inclusion and education are ensured at a campus in the UAE came from NYUAD’s Senior Director of Inclusion & Equity.
Robert’s statement to Redbrick describes how NYUAD ‘runs compulsory workshops on respect for students’, ranging from cross-cultural open-mindedness to issues such as ‘consent, sexual misconduct and bystander intervention’.
Schemes such as this that are already running in the country give hope that the University of Birmingham will be able to work around the controversial laws and customs in Dubai, particularly regarding the LGBT community. The Guild of Students will be operating in Dubai under the name the Students’ Association to represent students at the campus.
In his statement on August 8th in the ‘Reece Says’ blog on the Guild website, Roberts said that he and the Guild will ‘will work tirelessly for students at home and those studying abroad during my time in office – and I will not stop when the Dubai campus opens’.
Roberts has previously expressed his discontent about the new campus opening. In the Guild Presidential debate in February, he said he would put his ‘foot down and say people from my university should not be going to Dubai unless the university (and the Vice Chancellor) can guarantee, in writing, a safe space.’ However, he did say that he expects that students at the campus should be able to remain safe.
A final report is currently being produced, which will be completely independent of the university. This will be produced in cooperation with the ‘relevant officers and associations over the coming weeks’. The report promises to be Roberts’ ‘honest opinion about the campus and what will be needed to ensure the promised Edgbaston experience in Dubai is actually felt by the students out in Dubai’.