x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

University of Wollongong, Dubai, welcomes investigation into complaints

'When you have over 500 students a semester, it is to be expected', assistant professor at the University of Wollongong, Dubai says.

DUBAI // An experienced professor at one of the country's largest private universities is being investigated after student allegations of poor teaching and unfair marking.

Both claims about the assistant professor at the University of Wollongong, Dubai, will be assessed by the university's office of institutional effectiveness, and he will be given remedial training over the summer.

The academic, who teaches more than 500 students, welcomed the investigation into the "unfair" complaints.

It is the third time he has been investigated in his 11 years at Wollongong, and he was confident that this one, like the others, would be dismissed.

Raymi van der Spek, the executive director of Wollongong, said the dean of the department in question had met "several batches" of students and would be reviewing the academic's grading and teaching practices.

"A number of circumstances will be looked at to ensure this doesn't happen again," he added.

The accused academic said the complaints should be "investigated objectively", adding: "This is normal. If there are no complaints, there is something wrong. When you have over 500 students a semester, it is to be expected."

The Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA), part of the Ministry of Higher Education, said it had received no complaints about any member of staff at Wollongong, a branch of an Australian university.

Prof Ian Cumbus, commissioner at the CAA, said it was of concern that an academic could be repeatedly investigated over baseless allegations.

"There should be a mechanism in place to ensure it doesn't continue," he said. "We would hope the institution will be dealing with this appropriately."

The CAA consults on a monthly basis with Wollongong on matters from course accreditation to inspecting academics. The university, which has been in Dubai since 1993, has 3,000 students.

The dean of the academic department will now look at past assessments of the academic's teaching and compare them with the current complaints.

He suggested that while it was vital to give students the opportunity to complain, and for the university to listen to them, the process might make it too easy. However, he said: "It could also be that there are underlying teaching problems that need to be addressed."

One current final-year student, who asked to remain anonymous, said the quality of teaching at Wollongong had deteriorated since he started there in 2007.

"There are teachers teaching subjects they are not qualified for," he said. "For one class, we have a management teacher lecturing on accounting."

Mr van der Speck said he was not aware of this particular case and said students must use the correct channels to complain.

It is not the first time Wollongong students have complained about the quality of teaching. In a video posted on YouTube in 2009, the Emirati Club president, Mohammed Hassan, said: "There is some contrast between the lecturers. For example, during this semester, I'm taking a course where the lecturer has a PhD ... he's a great professor ... but the tutor for that subject doesn't know which is his head and which is his elbow."

One finance lecturer at the university was rated just 1.7 out of five for teaching quality on the student forum ratemyprofessors.com.

Dr Peter Heath, chancellor of the American University of Sharjah, said repeated complaints about an academic were rare.

"We haven't had serious complaints about teaching because we have this system that ameliorates the process by itself."

He said students would always have "favourites" among academics, but these were usually based on perceptions of strictness or teaching styles.

mswan@thenational.ae