x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rule changes spark mixed reactions at Zayed University

Changes at Zayed University are causing ructions among some of the students, who say it reduces flexibility for those who study and work.

Zayed University has a new president and with a change in senior management at any institution comes a new agenda. Students have learnt recently via email that the university is introducing new policies. Class schedules, for example, cannot be changed for any reason, so many students may encounter scheduling conflicts that prevent them from working.

“I am working and studying at the same time and the new rules do not allow me to change my schedule,” one student told me. “I personally disagree with not giving students a chance to be able to have flexibility in terms of changing schedules.”

Some students received an email from their advisers informing them that “no schedule changes will be allowed. This means if you have a teacher or time that you don’t like, or if you have a long break between classes, or if you have children at home, transportation issues, or if you hold a job off campus, you will unfortunately have to stay with whatever schedule you currently have. There will be no exceptions, according to the university’s new policy.”

Another student told me that this rule is unfair, as students should have the right to choose their teachers and the timings of their classes according to their personal circumstances.

Another new rule is that parents or guardians will be notified by SMS whenever their daughters enter or leave the campus.

After receiving the announcement through her student email account, one undergraduate told me that despite the fact that she did not really care because her parents know where she goes and what she does, she wished that the university would treat her like a grown-up. The university has also implemented a new system for student access to the campus, which reads car number plates and provides access only to registered cars. Traffic flow, I’ve been told, has never been more difficult.

At the end of last semester, student activities were also suspended without any reason. Some students had spent months organising events that will now never happen.

Many students have used Twitter to express their frustration at these changes. They complained that the policies introduced by Dr Maitha Al Shamsi, the new president, are too strict, “not reasonable” and “don’t make any sense”.

But what is really going on? Despite the many concerns I have heard about the recent changes, it is too soon to make proper judgements. The new president joined the institution only a few months ago; she will need time to settle into her job. It is normal for change to prove unpopular. Any kind of reform is difficult.

But the lack of what appears to be clear communication between the management on one side and students on the other is creating confusion.

Some professors also told me they are troubled by the policy adjustments. Professors are required to be on campus during their working hours. Teaching loads for faculty have been determined to be 15 hours per semester, which may mean they will no longer have enough time to pursue research or publish papers.

Some students told me they would no longer recommend the university to their sisters or cousins.

I contacted Zayed University’s public relations department yesterday to discuss these issues. Unfortunately, Dr Al Shamsi was unavailable for comment.

However, the PR department was able to tell me that the university’s new president planned to talk to students tomorrow. I am also led to believe that it is unlikely Dr Al Shamsi will discuss the specifics of recent policy changes during this appearance.

Since it was established in 1998, Zayed University has been a progressive institution that has received many international distinctions and offered education to many successful members of UAE society.

Education flourishes in environments where communication, academic freedom and critical thinking are welcomed and conventional ideas are challenged. One hopes it will always do so at Zayed University.

aalmazrouei@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @AyeshaAlmazroui