Illustration by Tom Abi Samra

We Ask for More: Financial Freedom and Inclusivity Can Not Be A Pipe Dream at NYUAD

We ask for more on-campus vendors. We ask for more assistantships at higher wages. We ask for more paid summer opportunities. We ask for a temporary institutional fund. We can no longer assume institutional goodwill — we need to feel heard.

For the second consecutive August, amid a global pandemic, a significant majority of NYU Abu Dhabi’s student body will begin the academic year with less financial freedom than promised, more financial anxiety than expected and a gut-wrenching feeling that they have been blindsided yet again.
Last year, without due consultation with the student body, the university implemented a policy change whereby personal cash stipends would no longer be distributed. Separately, to help alleviate concerns about financial inequity, the university provided “study support” in an elaborate combination of Falcon Dirhams — which were only accepted on campus — and gift vouchers that could only be used at select external vendors. As a final nail in the coffin of financial freedom and inclusivity, on Tuesday Aug. 10, students were informed that moving forward, Falcon Dirhams would be the only form of “study support” they receive.
As The Gazelle’s management wrote in an editorial last year, the stipend was NYUAD’s greatest, albeit imperfect, equalizer of a remarkably diverse student body. Written under similar circumstances, the editorial served as a reminder of NYUAD’s promises of financial security and inclusivity, unprecedented in higher education elsewhere. We write again today, with a similar reminder and a greater call for action.
Today’s NYUAD is different. It is more exclusive. It is more constraining. The financial landscape that NYUAD is renowned for and the very incentives that influenced many of us to reject offers from numerous other prestigious institutions — substantial cash stipends and distinctively generous scholarships — are remnants of the past. Whatever may be this pioneering institution’s vision, at the moment, much like most conventional U.S. universities, financial inclusivity and freedom seem to be a pipe dream.
The Gazelle’s Management is cognizant that this transition lies within the jurisdiction of the Abu Dhabi government and not the university’s administration. We honor that decision. However, we strongly assert that if such a change is to be implemented, the institution deliver certain remedies and provisions that attempt to compensate for all that is lost. We wish to call upon our Student Government representatives. We ask the administration — and by extension this institution — to listen and act, for once.
Firstly, we ask for a rapid expansion of on-campus vendors where Falcon Dirhams can be utilized. This includes but is not limited to: expanding dining options and allowing Falcon Dirhams to be used for administrative expenses, Nirvana fees and any other service that is offered on the NYUAD campus in the future. Furthermore, we ask that the Bookstore house broadly used gift cards, ranging from Amazon and Carrefour to Sharaf DG, along with any other viable options. This is essential in preserving any semblance of financial freedom. The university must also equip students to save Falcon Dirhams for use toward graduate school expenses, test funding and more throughout their time at NYUAD.
We ask that student assistantship and research assistantship opportunities be expanded significantly across campus departments, including offering teaching assistantships for juniors and seniors. We demand that all on-campus employment be paid. We demand higher wages. If our housing and tuition fees remain comparable to NYU New York’s, why must we accept lower wages? As we lose our cash stipends and gift cards, if the university is to operate in good faith — with any consideration for its students and their labor — it cannot continue paying an hourly rate that is 57 percent lower than the minimum wage for undergraduate students at NYUNY.
We ask that the university stop treating summer opportunities on campus as learning experiences where students are not always paid and instead, start treating them as labor that requires compensation. We ask that the Office of Residential Education stop charging excessive fines without any accountability. We ask the Office of Global Education to stop partnering with a travel agency that charges exorbitant cancellation and rebooking fees, even in a pandemic where airlines themselves have canceled such fees. We ask for a convenience store that does not charge prices that are 20 to 50 percent higher than alternatives in the city. We ask for a greater number of campus shuttles to the city, with more flexible schedules and a larger range of destinations to allow the student body greater mobility and to save us from exorbitant cab fares. Moreover, if there is a singular demand we wish to emphasize upon, it is that the university set up a temporary institutional fund to support its most vulnerable students in the months to come, as they struggle to adapt to this unforeseen and unfavourable policy change.
Let us be clear: we do not wish to assert entitlement. What we do wish is to recognize that the new disbursement policy will severely compromise students’ purchasing power, pushing those most vulnerable into financially precarious situations and creating an atmosphere of hypersensitivity, distress and anxiety that will have damning consequences on low-income students and their families.
In 2019, Laura Assanmal’s “NYUAD, Let’s Talk Low Income” article sparked a series of conversations surrounding the plight of low-income students at NYUAD, despite the direct cash stipend. Now, without any financial support, bills will be left unpaid, students who send money back home to their families will struggle more than others and graduate school plans might have to temporarily take the backseat. Their lives, the lives of their families and their futures will suffer a blow that no amount of resilience can — or should have to — respectfully endure. Back then, Assanmal wrote about institutional intent not meeting outcomes. Today, we have been provided with a stellar example for the same.
Over the course of the next few months, as the administration and student representatives work toward the remedies and protections we advocate for, we also ask for complete transparency and inclusion in decision-making processes. Over the past year, after repeated assurances and the institution of the Student Finance Working Group, aside from the initiation of the graduate school expenses program, few, if any, changes were made to make the previous disbursement policy more accomodating. This systematic cycle, consisting of a dishonest amalgamation of reassurances, town halls and new and often ineffective bureaucratic structures, needs to come to an end.
We can no longer assume institutional goodwill — we need to feel heard.
We need to acknowledge that this institution’s reputation rides on more than its annual output of Rhodes scholars, successful graduate school outcomes and employment offers from prestigious consultancy firms. By upending its financial support structure, the university can no longer claim that it aims “to attract the best possible students from around the world, regardless of financial circumstances.” And it is time that it acts in accordance with this reality.
As we report on the issue over the coming weeks and months, The Gazelle remains painfully aware that no amount of writing and documentation can truly capture all that will be lost for students. While there is little we can do to contest this policy change, there is a lot we have to say about how the impact may be managed — if the institution is willing to listen and act.
This piece was written by the senior-most editorial board of The Gazelle. It does not necessarily represent the individual views of the rest of its staff or the entire student body.
University administration will be hosting a town hall meeting on Friday Aug. 13 at 4pm GST where they will be answering questions and sharing any new information about the recent changes to financial packages. Students can register for this webinar here.
Student Government is creating a Finance Committee chaired by and composed of students in varying financial aid categories. They are accepting applications for committee chairs and members here until 11:59 PM GST on Saturday Aug. 14.
Grace Bechdol and Abhyudaya Tyagi are Editors in Chief. Vatsa Singh and Huma Umar are Managing Editors. Email them at
gazelle logo