On Aug. 20 and 22, the NYU Abu Dhabi student body received two community-wide emails, the first from the Office of the Vice Chancellor and the second from Student Finance. These emails both detailed recent government-mandated changes to the nature of our student stipend. Soon enough, another issue emerged: there were two different versions of the email.
The email non-Emirati students received outlined a change in disbursement of the stipend
, while the email Emirati students received stated that “NYUAD is developing a needs-based threshold and assessment process for students from the UAE to apply to receive their [stipend].” Previously, all Emirati nationals, regardless of financial background, had been on full merit-based scholarships as part of the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Scholars program. They will now be required to fill an application through the College Board's College Scholarship Service Profile — commonly known as CSS profile — to determine eligibility for a student stipend. Since Aug. 20 and 22, it has remained unclear what the threshold for financial need will be, when would they even have to fill the application by or why the change was done in the first place, causing confusion and panic among UAE nationals due to the lack of clarity in the communications they received.
The vague nature of the emails left Emirati student Safeya Alblooshi, Class of 2021, distraught at the implications of this change. “[It] made me really upset about [potentially not] being able to financially support myself the upcoming senior year, given that I cannot rely on my family for support as my brother and I are the ones supporting my mother,” she explained.
Meanwhile, Moza Almuhairi, Class of 2022, also an Emirati student, felt a discrepancy between the treatment of international and local students which went beyond mere email communications. “Emiratis are not really visible in this conversation,” described Almuhairi. “Not a lot of locals voice their complaints about this because they feel like they are not included in this conversation and they are not motivated to be included in the conversation.”
Grace Bechdol, a non-UAE national student in the Class of 2023, took the initiative to collect complaints and concerns from the student body regarding the stipend changes and attempted to understand the communication issues. “The person who writes the emails for international students is a completely different person to who writes them for Emirati students,” shared Bechdol. “There should be somebody whose job is making that language universal.”
After contacting a Student Life Coordinator to confirm Bechdol’s statement, they outlined in an email that “communications are drafted and reviewed by many people. There had to have been 10 people on the last email.”
A few days after the emails, Senior Leadership hosted a community-wide forum to help students obtain clarity on the recent updates. Members of the administration assured students that there was no change in financial aid awards, and that the change was only in the disbursement of the funds. It quickly became clear that the communication excluded UAE nationals.
The first mention of UAE nationals was made over 20 minutes into the meeting, thanks to a question posed by Student Government, echoing concerns raised insistently in the chat box feature. The answers from the panelists were unclear, and it was necessary to restate the question three more times before any attempt at giving an answer was made. As the meeting came to an end, UAE nationals’ concerns were brought up a fifth time with the suggestion of a separate forum for Emirati students, which was accepted by administration. The panelists’ overall handling of the questions regarding UAE nationals implied that while information was available, it was not prepared to be presented and discussed.
Since the stipend for Emirati students is now need-based, Emiratis are now asked to submit financial information regarding income and taxation that UAE nationals either do not possess or are not usually aware of or used to sharing in an official manner. This concern was not addressed effectively, according to many Emirati students.
“I cannot help but feel as though we are always kept in the [dark],” said Alblooshi, reflecting not just on the forum, but on an existing sense of a divide between UAE nationals and non-nationals on campus. “Ideally, we shouldn’t be asking for clarity, or to not be ignored … What exactly have we done to make the leadership and administration be inconsiderate towards us?”
The ‘Other’ Forum
While UAE nationals’ questions must be addressed in their entirety, the proposal of a separate forum not only confirmed the lack of planning around addressing the UAE nationals’ concerns, but also solidified the community divide between Emirati and non-Emirati students.
As Almuhairi said, “[NYUAD] makes [Emiratis’ issues] seem less important… Because they want to have a separate [forum], it becomes an ‘other’ issue, like it’s not anyone else's concern but the locals’.”
“The students that come from abroad, I feel like [the university is] more protective towards them and they want to make sure that their communication with them is clear because it would be a loss [if they left],” expressed Almuhairi. “I would not be able to afford this university if I didn’t have that scholarship.”
Due to pressure from the student body, the Zoom forum organized by Campus Life for UAE residents took place on Aug. 29. While it was originally meant to only address move-in logistics and life on campus, adjustments were made to include time for stipend concerns. The link to this meeting was initially sent to returning UAE residents, and the administration did not officially communicate the changes to the forum to the student body. Instead, current students were encouraged to share the link informally in student Facebook groups.
Seven minutes late, the meeting began in webinar format, which translated into students not being able to see who and how many students were in attendance. It was later clarified that all questions should go through the Q&A tab, making it impossible to see what kinds of questions others were asking. This meant that only the questions that the panelists chose to answer would become available to the public. This sparked a shift whereby attendees resorted to the chat feature, where communication was more open.
It was later clarified by administration that the webinar format was adopted to ensure that the Zoom meeting capacity was expanded, but this does not clarify the need to isolate the Q&A feature. Furthermore, first-year students had to leave the meeting before it ended, with questions unanswered, due to the webinar coinciding with first-year Marhaba orientation. The forum concluded with Dana AlHosani, an Emirati Student Life Coordinator, staying behind and attempting to support students in her capacity.
After the meeting there was no follow up email, but upon request, students could receive a link to the recorded Zoom meeting and a spreadsheet detailing all of the Q&As. Only five of the 70 questions asked concerned the stipend or financial aid. The first 66 questions, which were related to life on campus, were all answered in detail. Some of the questions that were claimed to have been answered in the forum had either vague or unhelpful answers.
There was a lack of planning on the administration’s part in terms of addressing UAE nationals’ concerns, and a hesitance to admit they have been failing them. Having different staff members responsible for local and nonlocal students does not justify the indifference the administration displayed toward the Emirati community on campus. Moving forward, there needs to be increased ownership from the university of their negligent communications. There needs to be structural, systemic change in the administration so that communication addressed to UAE nationals is on par with messaging addressed to the rest of the community. If we are a part of this community as much as anyone else is, the entire student body should know how our situation differs and the profound implications of this disparity.
“This entire process has disappointed me and changed my perception of the university in general,” shared incoming freshman Hind Alhammadi, Class of 2024. “It felt like I was in high school trying to argue [for] my rights, but my voice was so small that no one would listen. They say when you go to university things change, but it doesn’t feel like that anymore.”
Jude Al Qubaisi is a Staff Writer. Email her at email@example.com