On Campus

Offshore campuses must respect academic freedom: CAUT

New mega-universities in Gulf states concern professors

Offshore campuses funded by Canadian universities should ensure that academic freedom and working conditions are enforced, says the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

CAUT executive director James Turk expressed his support for the American Association of University Professors when that organization raised concerns about certain American schools operating overseas.

A handful of American universities and a smaller number of Canadian schools have set up campuses around the world to expand their brand. The United Arab Emirates cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and the country of Qatar have recently launched several higher education mega-projects, in partnership with foreign universities.

Dubai is building what it calls a Knowledge Village and in Doha, Qatar, officials are planning a project called Education City. Post-secondary institutions from around the world are encouraged to open “branch-plant” campuses.

The University of Calgary has operated a nursing program in Qatar for about a year. Other Canadian universities have created overseas partnership; for example, the University of New Brunswick awards business degrees at campuses in Egypt, Trinidad & Tobago, Ukraine, and Singapore.

“What is driving most of these initiatives is a desire to make money. In that context, are standards going to be compromised?” said Turk.

“We don’t know, but in a sense, we’re trying to get ahead of the curve here and make clear from the outset that the integrity of post-secondary education initiatives needs to be protected.”

CAUT associate executive director David Robinson mentioned a number of hypothetical concerns that he said could pose problems as Canadian universities move overseas.

Robinson pointed to the reaction of local administrators and faculty to, for example, female faculty who move to the Middle East and decline to wear a head scarf; or Jewish educators who could be denied faculty positions based on their ethnicity.

“We’ve heard from some of the American counterparts that this has become a real issue there,” said Robinson.

The CAUT executive adopted a statement that called on Canadian universities to protect, among other things: academic freedom and tenure; collegial governance standards; and appropriate workload, pay, and working conditions.

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