Ras Al Khaimah // The country's first university staff association has been such a success that the minister of higher education wants it replicated on campuses around the country.
Run by a committee of 11 elected members, the association was set up a year ago to give a voice to staff at the Higher Colleges of Technology's Ras Al Khaimah campuses.
It gives staff a way of airing any grievances anonymously, with the knowledge that they will have support if any problems are referred to higher authorities.
The committee is run by Kate Pugh, a quality assurance co-ordinator at the women's college, who says it was a response to a feeling that communication between the college and its staff was sometimes not working well.
In the past year it has dealt with issues ranging from handwashing facilities to housing.
And the association has also helped the male and female campuses work together better, according to Dr Bob Moulton, who chairs the committee in his role as director of the colleges.
Ms Pugh said feedback has been positive so far. "This year, it's pretty much the same people as those who were on it last year, which is a good sign that people think it's a worthy activity," she said.
Patrick Peters, an English teacher, sits on the committee. "When I first heard about it, I knew I wanted to do it," he said. "We've raised a broad range of issues, from tackling student attendance to improving equipment."
Currently, the committee is working with the university to make teachers' annual assessments more useful, and may base a new system on those already in use elsewhere.
Ms Pugh said they are looking at the options of doing this, whether by simply lifting established formulae from other institutions, or creating a new system based on the particular needs of the RAK colleges.
"All the teachers have received an email asking for their feedback and what they would like to see," said Mr Peters. "It's very positive as it involves them in the process - there are teachers with 20 or 30 years' experience who are very valuable in this process."
He described the association as a very progressive step in the region, where such groups are usually banned.
Before he arrived in RAK three years ago, Mr Peters worked at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, where such associations were not allowed. "We evaluated testing all the time, but that's the closest to this that I've seen," he said.
Ms Pugh had worked at the Australian College of Kuwait, which also prohibited anything like a trade union. "We had a faculty committee but it was banned because there were questions as to whether or not it was a union."
Now Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak has called for similar groups to be instituted at the HCT's 17 other campuses.
Dr Dave Pelham, director of the Fujairah colleges, said such an initiative would be welcome.
"We'd embrace it on this campus," he said. "It gives a more formal channel of communication to all areas of the institution."
He said a forum that let staff opinions be heard and issues be dealt with more communally would benefit both staff and management.