Expatriate academic staff in the United Arab Emirates: the nature of their work experiences in higher education institutions

Ann E. Austin, David W. Chapman, Samar Farah, Elisabeth Wilson, Natasha Ridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


As many countries expand their higher education systems, they must attract, support, and retain qualified academic staff. This paper focuses on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a case study of a nation drawing on large numbers of mostly expatriate faculty working in short-term academic appointments. The paper begins by considering the national context within which expatriate faculty work in the UAE. Then, using a published conceptual framework highlighting key elements of academic work, the paper examines defining aspects of the work experience of expatriate faculty in the UAE, including work expectations (teaching, research, and service); equity (compensation, incentives, and benefits); autonomy, academic freedom, and flexibility; collegiality and institutional involvement; and professional growth. The discussion considers the implications of these elements of academic work for the satisfaction, motivation, and institutional commitment of the expatriate faculty members. The sample of 29 expatriate faculty studied is drawn from the population of full-time instructors at three public and three semi-public institutions in the UAE who teach in education or media, humanities and social sciences, science or engineering, and business or economics. The discussion of findings highlights satisfactions and concerns, as well as the relationship of work experiences with organizational commitment. The nature of academic work in many countries is shifting toward temporary and short-term contract-based appointments. Thus, analysis of the experiences of expatriate academic staff working within the UAE, where the majority of faculty members are in short-term positions, raises issues relevant to those in other countries where the non-permanent academic workforce is increasing. Additionally, issues considered are of interest to those who study the academic career and the factors shaping it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)541-557
Number of pages17
JournalHigher Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
institutions, faculty members and administrative leaders explained that expectations for more attention to research, ideally manifested in publications placed in high-quality journals, have been increasing in the last several years as part of efforts to enhance institutional stature. Several of the senior administrators and some of the faculty respondents serving as department chairs explained that this increase in attention to research productivity is fueled by the interest shown by national leaders in enhancing the country’s position as a knowledge-based economy. Research activity also is useful to cite in accreditation reviews, according to a few respondents. Some administrators, particularly at the larger federal-level institutions, said they are striving to develop areas of research emphasis, establishing modest in-house research grant funding competitions, and identifying external research funding sources. At the national level, a National Research Fund for providing grants based on competition was established in 2008, but funds had not yet reached researchers at the time of the study (October, 2010). While respondents said that rhetoric about the importance of research is increasing, particularly at the large federal-level institutions, their observations suggest that actual research activity is neither advanced nor widespread. One respondent claimed that ‘‘there is a lot of rediscovering the wheel’’ (that is, doing low-level research). Another succinctly observed that ‘‘research, at the moment, is very much an afterthought.’’ For the most part, rhetoric about research importance seemed to exceed actuality.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Academic staff and faculty work
  • Autonomy in academic work
  • Faculty collegiality
  • Faculty job satisfaction, motivation, and commitment
  • Higher education institutions
  • Teaching, research, and service in academic work


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