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NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus report: trials of TNE

An investigative firm which had been commissioned to look into allegations of mistreatment of construction workers at NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus found that about one-third of the migrant construction workers employed on the project did not benefit from US labour guidelines because their contracts fell below financial or time-related thresholds.

John Sexton, outgoing President of NYU, spoke to UK delegates about the trials - and achievements - of TNE

"We have complete control over hiring and insist on independent access to the Internet through our own pipe"

The investigation – which was launched after allegations published by media sources including The New York Times – found that the gap in compliance was due to decisions taken by local contractors.

Tamkeen, the Abu Dhabi government partner of NYU, and NYU itself, instructed Nardello & Co. to produce the report. Both parties issued a joint statement this month confirming that any extra compensation due to those workers would be processed.

“That error – for which we take responsibility – was inconsistent with the project’s publicly stated commitment to ensure that all of those working on the construction of the NYUAD Saadiyat Campus would be covered by our standards and compliance-monitoring programme,” indicated Tamkeen and NYU.

The report also found some remaining isolated cases of workers who, while covered by the project’s compliance regime, did not receive full wages, which would be rectified.

NYU campus in Abu Dhabi. Photo: uyynnig

NYU campus in Abu Dhabi. Photo: uyynnig

Other recommendations, on how standards are enforced, passport retention, and accommodation standards, “will be studied in depth and, where feasible, we intend to act on them” said the two parties.

The report summarises the backdrop to NYU moving into Abu Dhabi, a move announced in 2007 with an inaugural class starting at an interim campus in 2010, while work began on the main campus in the same year – on Saadiyat Island, intended to become an “international educational and cultural centre”.

The trials of TNE and issues around exporting ethical guidelines to an overseas campus were also addressed last month by John Sexton, President of New York University, who responded to a question on cultural values of host campus countries during the IHE Forum.

(NYU also has a campus in Shanghai and 11 global academic centres).

“No place in the world is perfect, no country in which we have campuses is perfect,” he said, underlining that NYU seeks to focus on engagement and parameters that it can be comfortable within.

“There are certain elements of our [operation] that are non-negotiable,” he said. “We have complete control over hiring and insist on independent access to the Internet through our own pipe.”

Sexton underlined how proud he was of NYU’s achievement in Abu Dhabi, which received over 1,000 undergraduate applications from 114 countries.

“It was solely and completely an academic enhancing agenda”

“We attract students we wouldn’t get just being in NYC,” he said, adding that the agenda for opening in Abu Dhabi was never about revenue, but enhancing the reach and reputation of a university which has a significant research pedigree. “It was solely and completely an academic enhancing agenda”.

“What we’re doing is still unique,” he claimed, explaining that in China, the top 60,000 high school students can now apply to study at NYU Shanghai, where they are required to sit a two-day interview process before being accepted.

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