The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020 was recently announced with 2 Universities in the UAE featuring in the top 500 *
As the UAE National Agenda includes Education as one of the 6 national priorities, there is a very strong focus to improve the quality of Higher Education in terms of learning outcomes, publications and employability and in turn improve the overall ranking of the universities. This is a fantastic opportunity to raise standards, but when there is a talent skills shortage in the region, what are the challenges in attracting top-level hires?
1. Perception of the Region
Finding great candidates is challenging but not impossible, but finding candidates interested in a relocation to the Middle East is a little more difficult.
Some of the misconceptions include ability to practice other religions, women not being able to work or drive, safety, travel restrictions & cost of living. To overcome this, when engaging with candidates outside of the region it’s important to be transparent and share relevant information which impacts them as an individual right at the start of the process, so there are no shocks down the line.
Honesty is always the best policy.
2.Research Grants & Teaching Load
Globally the teaching load varies from institution to institution as does the availability of grants. To improve ranking in the Times Higher Education (THE) list one of the key criteria is quality research publications, herein lies the challenge.
There are many institutions whose focus is on teaching load, rather than publications. It is therefore critical, if ranking is to improve, that any new hires are successfully publishing and actively researching; consequently, more research grants and time need to be made available across a broad range of subjects and at all levels.
3. Future Opportunities, Tenure track?
Tenure is very rarely offered in the UAE to Expat employees and, depending on the candidate, who may be a newly assistant professor or an experienced professor at the end of their career, the right opportunity in the right institute must be matched.
It is an exciting opportunity to teach and research in the region because of the diversity of the students and staff. For those earlier in their career working in the Middle East can certainly broaden their perspective on different ways of teaching and dealing with other cultural challenges, additionally the research opportunities can be quite unique in the region. Their regional experience can set them apart from others when applying for future opportunities enabling them to leap-frog within their career.
For those more experienced, or with Tenure, working in the Middle East could be a perfect opportunity to enjoy warmer climes and save up some additional retirement money, along with bringing significant skills and experience to the region. Working for a few years in a different country also allows time to reflect, perfect and pass on knowledge.
4. Compensation & Benefits for Families
Whilst the streets may not be ‘paved with gold’, and some benefits have been reduced in the previous years, the salary and benefits packages still remain competitive against much of the world and include housing and schooling and many other perks. Admittedly, there are some western universities which offer very good packages, but not everyone focuses on the package.
Overcoming salary can often be the most difficult challenge, as an international move implies a certain amount of risk, how is that compensated? To attract the best people, universities need to offer something that will “make it worth their while”. Whether that is in the form of salary/benefits or research opportunities to get the best academics, each institution needs to identify what they can offer potential candidates to leave a tenured, safe role? Reducing the rigidity in compensation benefits can mean the acquisition of some great talent who will really impact the quality of education and attract more students.
In summary, to increase the number of universities ranking in the top 500, its time to face our challenges head-on. We must be more innovative in our recruitment approach to fill the talent shortage by improving the perception of the region, increasing availability of research grants and publications, and develop an offering for academics which will entice the best.
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Director – Executive Search & Recruitment for Higher Education