x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

HCT puts lecturers' salary rises on hold

Increases to cover greater cost of living are dropped after deep cuts to university budget.

ABU DHABI // The UAE's biggest federal university has scrapped this year's annual staff pay rise after deep cuts to its budget.

The Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) has been in the red since 2009. The colleges are this year reportedly working with a Dh900 million budget but are likely to spend at least Dh1.1 billion.

Last year the institution, with 17 campuses in the UAE, scrapped its annual merit pay rises of 2 per cent.

Now its lecturers have lost the 4 per cent cost of living pay rise due last month. Lecturers at HCT earn an average monthly salary of about Dh20,000.

"We've not even been notified about this and we're just expected to accept it," said one staff member in Abu Dhabi, on condition of anonymity.

"They have the attitude that if we don't like it we should leave. We are treated as unskilled, disposable labour and people have had enough.

"In the time I have been with Higher Colleges of Technology, we have seen a steady decline in the pay, bonuses and working conditions at HCT."

Dr Tayeb Kamali, the vice chancellor of HCT, said the increases had been cancelled but claimed the packages still exceeded those at similar institutions in the UAE and the region.

Dr Kamali said this year's priority was equipment and resources for the colleges.

"It's just a priority of expenditure this year," he said. "It's nothing to do with us not having the budget."

When finalising pay increases, HCT studies the cost of living and predicts its available funds.

After receiving Dh333m less than its calculated budget needs - a shortfall of more than a quarter - for this academic year, HCT turned away more than 2,500 applicants.

While this was partly due to the colleges raising entry standards, sources claimed the lack of funds made it impossible to accept all applicants, as it has done previously.

HCT has places for 5,533 students across its campuses this year, more than 30 per cent fewer than last year's 8,024. The other two federal universities offered more places.

"Things have been getting tougher and tougher over recent years in terms of budget," said one staff member, who has taught at HCT for eight years and asked to remain anonymous.

"We've been given more students per class, especially for those teachers in Fujairah who have absorbed large numbers of foundation [remedial learning to bring students up to entry level] students from UAE University, yet with no additional pay to compensate for much longer hours."

Another, who has taught there for 12 years, said: "There is a feeling that the management don't actually care what we think. We are never informed or consulted on major changes and yet they expect us to keep quiet and simply be grateful for having a job.

"It's not the way to treat people who have been loyal to the institution for many years and contributed something valuable to the society."

Dr Kamali said he hoped staff would understand the priority change this year.

"It's only one year," he said. "Only two or three years ago we gave 15 per cent to account for the increased cost in living so we do treat our staff well with very good packages."

HCT, which specialises in vocational courses and training, has struggled for cash since 2005 and began overdraft borrowing in 2009.

The situation is similar at Zayed University, another of the three federal institutions. It has also had its budget cut this year, by Dh32m to 8 per cent below the required amount calculated by experts at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

In January, staff at Zayed University received pay rises of 2 per cent after three and a half years without an increase and despite contracts that promise an annual 5 per cent rise.

UAE University will not be freezing pay despite a Dh63m - 4.5 per cent - funding shortfall.