The University of Birmingham has come under fire from academic unions and an LGBT group over its decision to begin operations in Dubai, where the new campus opened in September
Concern has been raised by these groups over the safeguards put in place by the University for students an staff working in the United Arab Emirates, a country that has been heavily criticised for failing to uphold human rights.
In advance of the release of his Dubai Report, Guild President Reece Patrick Roberts told Redbrick that he believes that a member of Guild staff should be working in the region to ensure that the University quickly delivers on implementing provisions, such as ‘LGBT safety and support for victims of sexual assault.’ Roberts outlined that, whilst he opposes the development of the UAE campus, he is committed to working with the University to ‘represent and protect the students in Dubai.’
The UoB branch of UNISON, a trade union with almost 1.4 million members, has expressed concerns regarding its lack of involvement in the making of key decisions about the Dubai campus and over its members’ safety in the region. It released a letter to the University, saying: ‘As recognised trade unions representing support and academic staff, we are disappointed that we have not been consulted on the opening of the Dubai campus, or on the policies that will apply to the members of staff who will be working for the University in Dubai.’
Furthermore, the University’s Rainbow Network emailed staff members to say: ‘The [Dubai] campus cannot be considered to be private due to the number of people and external visitors who will be there, so anything illegal which happens on campus’ is ‘at risk of being reported to the authorities.’
In Dubai, acts such as displays of public affection in a same-sex relationship or identifying as transgender is against the law. Gay marriage is illegal in the UAE while, according to The Independent, only married heterosexual couples are allowed to have sex or share a bed. An Independent article titled ‘What Not to Do in Dubai as a Tourist’ reports that: ‘in 2016, a British woman was arrested for having extra-marital sex after reporting to police that she had been raped by a group of men.’
In addition, just last week, Durham PhD student Matthew Hedges was sentenced to life imprisonment for ‘spying’ during a research trip to the Gulf state in a trial that lasted less than five minutes with no legal representation. Since then, he has been pardoned with immediate effect by the UAE, but their spokesperson still claims that Hedges was ‘100% a secret service operative.’
Last Thursday, UoB staff voted for an academic boycott of the Dubai campus. This means that they refuse to teach at the campus and will not provide any academic support, which includes marking exam papers and sending course materials.
Redbrick spoke to a representative from the University of Birmingham, who said: ‘In establishing our Dubai campus, we have spent considerable time considering all aspects of working and living in Dubai and have drawn on the experience and expertise of a range of organisations – including specialist equalities bodies such as Stonewall, law firms and other universities and businesses operating in the UAE – in order to develop extensive advice and guidance for staff and students thinking about working or studying in Dubai.’
Speaking to The Guardian, they added: ‘We have always respected the views of those staff who do not wish to engage with our Dubai campus and have been clear from the outset that opportunities to work in Dubai are optional for all staff, and indeed in most instances, staff have actively applied for these roles.’