The academic job market may be slowing down in Europe and North America, but some of the countries where academic skills and qualifications may get you a satisfying job are the Gulf States of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In addition, experts say that interest in earning Western degrees remains high in the Middle East, and the appeal for local students of earning a prized credential while staying close to home seems sure to continue.
Why work in Qatar and the UAE?
David Pearson was an English lecturer at the University of South Carolina but now teaches at Qatar University in Doha. He says two things attracted him to the Middle East the most: “The salary doubled what I was earning in America, and I have vacation time - 3 months - in which I can travel. Also, I liked the fact that Aljazeera News is based in Qatar where I live and that the Qatari government is pouring money into education, attracting topflight schools like Cornel and Georgetown to create satellite campuses in Qatar.“
Mr Pearson may be right, not only are countries in the region setting up new institutions, some European and North American universities are forming partnerships with local institutions while others are setting up satellite campuses. These initiatives include Middlesex University and New York University.
Josh Taylor is the Assistant Vice Chancellor at New York University, in Abu Dhabi, UAE. He says that it is a tremendously exciting time to be in Abu Dhabi, as it continues its evolution into a true world city.
“Though we are clearly still in our infancy as an institution, I think it’s safe to say that the creation of NYU Abu Dhabi has been a life-changing experience for those of us who have had the privilege to be a part of it, both in New York and here in Abu Dhabi,” he says.
Where to look for openings
As countries like Qatar and the UAE are keen to attract academic talent because they want to become powerful players in the international student recruitment market, it is worthwhile knowing how you should prepare yourself if you think this might be the place for you.
Many universities in the region advertise vacancies through their websites and also regularly on jobs.ac.uk, so it might be a good idea to check these places for job openings.
If you do decide that your short or long term academic future lies in the Gulf, you might be glad to hear that you may not have to make significant cultural and professional adjustments in order to fit in with your students, work and colleagues.
“The transition was not difficult at all,” says Lien Els, an assistant professor at Middlesex University satellite campus in the UAE, who moved to the country from South Africa. “Students go to university to study and if you make the learning experience an interesting, exciting, and enriching one, they will. I am fortunate to work with highly professional colleagues and that makes my job fairly easy. At the University of South Africa, we had more than 142,000 students and my teaching was quite specialised.”
Advantages and challenges
Mr Pearson points out that some students may not be intrinsically motivated, so you must find ways to motivate them to learn. In addition, he says “relationship” is very important in the Middle East and that to be an effective teacher it is imperative that you demonstrate to your students that you care about them as people.
“They do not automatically grant a teacher respect. I had to learn that fact, and adjust my teaching so that I didn’t come across as simply a cold, emotionally removed lecturer,” he says.
For Josh Taylor, the biggest challenge is in navigating the differences in time zones and working weeks with the main institution in New York.
“In New York, they work Monday-Friday, whereas here, we work Sunday-Thursday, and then depending on the time of the year, it’s either an eight or nine hour time difference. It can make scheduling phone calls and video-conferences a bit challenging at times.”
Prof Els warns that you should make sure you want to be in the Middle East. She points out that if this is a calling and not just a job, then you will enjoy the richness of the cultural diversity, different work practices, and opportunities to make a real difference.
However, everything is not just a bed of roses, she says, universities are small in this part of the world, and Prof Els admits that she misses the interaction with colleagues in the same field.
“I also miss the huge library of several stories high,” she says. “So, leave your furniture at home and bring more books! The diversity of students' educational background can also be a challenge at times. Not all of them come from an environment where it is the norm to be a critical thinker, an independent learner, and a creative problem-solver. I guess this is part of the opportunity I alluded to earlier!”
Mr Pearson shares Prof Els’s view. He points out that other advantages include the availability of the newest technology, for example Qatar University, where he teaches, now has smart classrooms exclusively in all of its buildings. The smart classrooms include data projectors, wireless Internet, overhead projectors, and speakers.