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The core issues of UTAG’s withdrawal of teaching services

The core issues of UTAG’s withdrawal of teaching services

  1. Government reneged on an agreement with UTAG and UTAG has been demanding an honoring of the agreement.
  2. The tricky and untrustworthy behavior of government regarding conditions of service for the past three years led to UTAG’s decision to insist on the agreement.
  3. In the ten years of the agreement, conditions of living have skyrocketed and conditions of service have degenerated, so UTAG is asking for something that has in fact depreciated.
  4. The agreement is based on the value that lecturers bring to the market place, and this article exposes some of that value.
  5. Unlike other professionals, a lecturer has three jobs in one, making the profession very stressful.
  6. An “entry-level” lecturer requires a PhD that emerges from an average of 9 years post-first-degree training, plus 7 and sometimes many more years of experience for those who were working, corresponding with a quite high position in other professions.
  7. The Labour Market Survey of 2019 reports that government is responsible for over 75% of the problem of skill shortage in the public sector (including the shortage or scarcity of 22 skill types in tertiary education).

Historical Antecedents to UTAG members’ salary negotiations

The reasons behind the withdrawal of teaching services by the University Teachers Association of Ghana (henceforth, UTAG) is that Government of Ghana (henceforth, government) abandoned an agreement signed on 15 December 2011 with the association, specifying that the Market Premium (henceforth, MP) of a university lecturer is 1.14 of basic salary.

This was predicated on a roadmap for the payment of a university lecturer the cedi equivalent of $1,500 under the regime of President J. A. Kufour to help retain internationally competitive scholars in order to help train the future workforce of this country and to help solve the country’s numerous problems.

Before UTAG was migrated onto the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS), it was agreed during negotiations that an entry-level lecturer should be paid the cedi equivalent of $2084, but that value has since been destroyed by 10 years of inflation.

 

The rationale for this was partly that, payment of salary erosion under the earlier agreement, as a result of the regular depreciation of the cedi was not going to be possible under the SSSS, but that such an agreement could not be abrogated, neither could it be accommodated on the spine. To reconcile the issues, a market premium similar to a professional allowance was introduced.

At the interim, it was pegged at a percentage of the basic salary and Government was to conduct a Labour Market Survey (henceforth, LMS) to determine the actual value to be paid to lecturers and other labour unions under the spine. This was to be reviewed periodically to ensure that a university lecturer received at least a cedi equivalent of $ 1,500 as agreed with Government and for the reasons earlier adduced.

Freeze on payment of interim market premium and the market value of a lecturer

Under the agreement, Government was to continue paying 1.14 of basic salary as interim MP until an LMS has determined the value that tertiary services bring to the marketplace, and that value is translated into a final MP. Government initially started paying the 1.14 MP but stopped in 2014 without any translation of a completed LMS report into a final MP. For the past three years, UTAG has been asking government to resume an agreement over an amount that has in fact depreciated significantly, but government has refused. It is also important to consider that the student population and conditions of living were lower at the time of the 114% agreement (2011) compared to today. So the load and stress have been going up whilst the conditions of service have been going in the opposite direction.

 

It is good for us to understand why government signed this agreement with UTAG in 2011. It is based on the value that a university lecturer brings to the marketplace (in fact, the economy). Those who wonder why the agreement paid an entry-level lecturer about $2000 need the facts provided in this essay.

First, “entry-level” is not the same for university lecturing and for other occupations. When we think about entry level in the context of the wider society, what normally comes to mind are base-level positions that often do not require a first degree (think about entry level nursing, military, and police ranks). I

n the context of this more common understanding, the entry-level teaching position in the university would be the Teaching Assistant (which requires a first degree), after which comes Assistant Lecturer (which requires a Master’s degree). But universities do not regard these levels as having the advanced research skills required of a substantive academic staff. Only a Doctoral degree  (a PhD) can grant one assess to the position of a Lecturer (who also becomes a Senior Member of the university). University lecturing is, therefore, the only occupation whose “entry level” requires a PhD for a substantive contract with a university.

Considering that the university sits at the top of a long hierarchical education system that begins from nursery school up to the Doctoral (which we call the terminal) degree, we have at least 10 ranks beginning from the Licensed Teacher at pre-tertiary level to Professor at the tertiary level.

 

When we harmonize the pre-tertiary and tertiary ranks, a Lecturer occupies the 7th rank upwards (a rank roughly equivalent to [if not a bit higher than] an Assistant Director 1 at the Ghana Education Service).

As I will soon demonstrate, a Lecturer has much more complicated work to do compared to a GES Assistant Director 1 (whose responsibilities are to “track the progress of policies implemented by the Ministry of Education” in schools). The demonstration will show that an entry-level lecturer should be paid much higher than is the case, particularly in MP.

A good number of lecturers were pre-tertiary schoolteachers before developing to join the university teaching cadre. Others became lecturers by first becoming teaching assistants after their first degrees and national services (which is equivalent to Principal Superintendent in the Ghana Education Service).

This is a position they hold for several years, and during which some of them initiate and undertake their second and third degrees to be upgraded to become “entry-level” lecturers. Second degrees now take an average of four years and third degrees an average of five.

 

“Entry-level” lecturers, therefore, already have an average of nine years post-first-degree training, plus seven and sometimes many more years of teaching or some other experiences (depending on which career they are coming from), and, at employment, are allocated some staff (such as teaching and research assistants).

Lecturers as generators of knowledge

To create knowledge, university lecturers and researchers undertake research to arrive at new discoveries, original ideas, which all become knowledge. To become acceptable and consumable, such new ideas and findings need to be submitted to academic journals around the world, whose reviewers subject the submissions to strict scrutiny and criticism.

Many of these journals (across various disciplines) have more than 90% rejection rates, and accepted papers require an average publishing fee of $2000 for open access dissemination of the information in the paper otherwise lecturers or their universities have to pay to access such information.

 

Lecturers are normally happy to even borrow to pay such fees because creating new ideas and discoveries is like finding a needle in a haystack: for every new idea or discovery, there are hundreds of unsuccessful experiments, reflections, and debates. For those in the sciences, it requires years of painstaking experiments many of which involve harmful chemicals, to arrive at these discoveries without adequate resources in the country.

All these factors indicate that creating and disseminating new knowledge is the most difficult challenge on the planet earth. But lecturers are not daunted by this challenge and those in Ghana can boast of publications from prestigious platforms around the world.

The tripartite nature of a lecturer’s job

Research: The task of research (in addition to teaching), plus the fact that research is measured by the quantity and quality of new ideas and discoveries, means that university lecturing is a unique occupation. We could see this uniqueness in the tripartite profile of the lecturer’s contract with a university: research, teaching, and community services.

 

This three-dimensional character of lecturers’ work puts them above most other professionals or role-occupants who have uni-dimensional duties.

And each dimension of the lecturer’s work contains enough to be done by several persons in the normal context of occupational work. Let us briefly look at each dimension.

In the area of research, university lecturers have to apply for research grants to enable them to undertake their research. Grants are difficult to get, and most grant-awarding organizations around the world have high rejection rates (since they receive so many submissions from around the world). Despite this, university lecturers around the country have been receiving grants (meant to cater for the cost of doing research).

The university where a lecturer is affiliated will deduct a chunk of the grant (in some cases, 25%) whilst the government deducts tax (up to 20% for some components of the grant). The researcher is supposed to “manage” what is left for the proposed research. Government pays a book and research allowance, but this is not enough for an open access publication fee of between $2000 and $3000 per publication. And in one of Ghana’s universities, at least 30 publications are expected for promotion across ranks (the number of publications used are normally higher).

 

Research involves gathering data (travelling to target places, organizing interviews, experiments, surveys, and collating findings for analyses). To manage such projects involves hiring research assistants and other specialists (according to the task needed or the stage of research). As findings begin to emerge from such research projects, the lecturer/researcher needs to attend conferences to present them and receive feedback and criticisms from peers around the world who attend the same conferences. Many of such conferences are international or inter-continental (warranting that the lecturer spends huge sums of money on travel, accommodation and immigration services). To be publishable, these activities must have generated new knowledge.

If successfully published, such new ideas or findings become new knowledge, to be consumed from the university level all the way down to the lowest levels of the education sector. To make sure that the idea or finding is new, the lecturer needs to make sure that no one has originated it before.

To ensure this, the lecturer needs to read all the books and articles concerning such a topic and must buy all the books involved (these days from Amazon and other online shops) at expensive prices if the library of the lecturer’s university does not have them and cannot acquire them on short notice. If, by mistake, a lecturer claims as new, something that someone else has generated before, such a lecturer would be accused of plagiarism.

Going through the entire literature on a topic is, therefore, unavoidable. All of these mean that the research aspect of a university lecturer’s work is one of the most expensive types of investigations to undertake. It is important to note that research findings do not have expiry dates. Some ideas take time to mature before their full values are derived.

A typical example is the RNA-based vaccine technology that enabled the development of Covid-19 vaccines in record time. The idea of using RNA for vaccine development was carried out in the 1980s. But this technology was not utilized until 2019. There are several examples of these stories.

Effects of research on university rankings: Some international organizations now evaluate academic research in various ways. Scopus, based in Netherlands, is a database of the world’s most rigorous journals. One of its features, Scival, shows how individual universities are faring in research. Many ranking agencies use the Scopus database to determine university rankings around the world.

There are other databases apart from Scopus (such as Web of Science, Google Scholar, and those specific to various academic disciplines), and it is part of lecturers’ duties to try and uplift the rankings of their universities by publishing in journals captured in such databases.

If university rankings are high, they play roles in attracting international students to the university (and even in attracting high-skill businesses to the country). The tuition fees of international students in Ghana (which are higher compared to fees charged indigenous students) are also important for the financial wellbeing of the universities and the country.

Much of such fees will not materialize if the rankings of the universities begin to fall. But this is what government is indirectly doing by insisting on paying lecturers poorly. Fortunately (and not too late), some Ghanaian universities currently still enjoy good rankings in the context of West Africa, Africa, and the world’s Global South.

Teaching services: The research profile of a university lecturer makes him or her an asset, and lecturers are invited to join committees and panels of experts constituted to solve challenging problems in society that require advanced techniques and approaches. It is also believed that an innovative researcher would make a difference in what he or she teaches students.

Since the university is the “factory” of all other professions, it is expected that those being trained for those other professions would, upon graduation, take the most recent advancements in their field into their profession. This is how a society updates its capacity to tackle all of its existential challenges.

To achieve this, the teaching duties of a university teacher contains many sub-duties, which include the regular designing of new courses and updating of existing courses to reflect the most recent research findings and ideas; designing and updating course syllabi; designing fair and equitable assessment strategies; in-class teaching, providing course materials that show scholarly growth in the field; authoring textbooks and other instructional materials; setting and grading of assignments, term papers, exams; presenting research developments in regular seminars, setting up and administering e-learning, supervising and examining student research projects until graduation of supervisees; mentoring students; serving as course advisor (to advise students regarding specific courses); providing career advice; supervising academic development (among other duties).

Due to population increase (both in the wider society and the increasing number of admissions), a lecturer is straddling a steadily increasing teaching load (there are some lecturers teaching, grading, and advising up to 2,500 students per lecturer). Combining all of these responsibilities with research generates an occupational pressure that is unique (in its severity) to university academic positions in the context of the wider society.

Community services: In addition to research and teaching/supervision, the university lecturer is also expected to do community service: to serve the lecturer’s communities (the university community, the national and the international communities). This, together with the lecturer’s research and teaching, amounts to three segments of the lecturer’s community service, on which the lecturer is evaluated for promotion. Regarding services to the university community, the lecturer is expected to help run the university in an administrative capacity (such as Examination Officer, Head of Department, Dean, Provost, Vice Chancellor, Hall Master, Tutor, etc).

The lecturer has to serve in various statutory committees designed to help make high quality decisions in administering the university. The lecturer also has to serve in various ad hoc committees set to solve specific problems that arise very often. Most universities have many other institutions affiliated to them (the universities) and a lecturer needs to vet and moderate all the examination questions and answer scripts emanating from the affiliated institutions.

The lecturer needs to help review articles submitted (from both within and outside the university) to journals established within his or her university, as well as be part of the editorial board of those journals if invited to do so. Apart from attending conferences both within and outside the university and country, the lecturer needs to convene and organize such conferences, in the lecturer’s own university (other lecturers in other universities convene and organize those the lecturer attends outside his or her own university).

To show collegiality, the lecturer has to (very often) review the research articles of colleagues before they (the colleagues) send their articles to journals. This is to improve the articles and minimize their rejection chances. So, whilst the lecturer improves the academic work of students, the lecturer also does same to those of colleagues (as part of an overall project of creating knowledge).

Apart from all these, university lecturers have to recommend their graduated students for admission into other universities for further education or for job positions generally, and this responsibility is unique to lecturers among other teachers. Considering that most graduates ultimately seek employment and a good proportion of them seek further education, the task of recommending them at their number (each of them a multitude of times) could be stressful.

Regarding services to country, the lecturer is expected to serve on committees outside the university set up to tackle national, sub-national, and local issues. The lecturer is very often invited to serve as external examiner of the undergraduate and postgraduate research work of students in other universities within the lecturer’s country. This involves thoroughly reading through a high number of undergraduate long essays and post-graduate (Masters and Doctoral) dissertations.

The lecturer also reviews articles submitted to journals in neighboring universities within the country as they find the lecturer suitable due to the society and culture in which most of such research have been carried out. Just as a lecturer plays a role in the academic development of students and colleagues in the lecturer’s own university, he or she plays the same role regarding students and colleagues in neighboring universities.

Services to the global or international community begin once a lecturer achieves some recognition for research and publications. The lecturer is frequently invited to be an external examiner of the research products of postgraduate students in universities in other countries and continents.

The lecturer is invited to review articles submitted to some international journals that have global reach, and to join the editorial boards of some other such international journals. Sometimes, international grant-awarding organizations seek the assistance of the lecturer to review or assess grant applications as part of a decision to award grants.

The lecturer also occasionally joins a department in another university (locally or internationally) to serve in the capacity of Visiting Scholar or Professor. On such visits, lecturers present their research in seminars and listen to lecturers in host universities presenting and discussing their research. This enhances academic interaction and cross-fertilization of ideas between universities and countries across all sectors of the economy.

And very often, lecturers in other universities invite our lecturers to class sessions with foreign students on certain issues arising in the context of African or non-Western culture or societies, or to offer African perspectives on certain universal or global issues. The lecturer also needs to join professional associations in his or her area of specialization (local, national, and international) for more cross-fertilization of ideas. Sometimes the lecturer needs to take up leadership positions in such professional associations or serve on the editorial board of the journals that such associations are operating.

Tenure

In Ghana (as in some other countries) lecturers are not tenured until they attain Professorial status. At every point before promotion to the rank of Associate Professor or Full Professor, lecturers work on a fixed-term contractual basis. They have a maximum of six (6) years to work in any pre-professorial rank. Renewal of the employment is subject to fulfilling most of the aforementioned roles and responsibilities specifically tailored for each rank. This service condition may exist to compel lecturers to seek continuous personal and professional development to meet the growing demands of the work.

Notwithstanding, lecturers often have to juggle the tripartite demands of teachingresearch, and community service often at a cost to their physical, social and psychological health if they are to avoid being dismissed at the expiry of their contracts. The implication is that for every public University in Ghana, only a tiny fraction of lecturers(within the professorial ranks) are tenured and can therefore have job security. This is not the case for other public/civil servants.

Occupational Risk:

It is important to note that the work of the lecturer in knowledge production and its dissemination in the classroom, at conferences, on the radio, television, in the field, etc carries with it some significant risks, depending on the nature of the democratic system a country enjoys. This is important to note because though the production of new knowledge is intended to improve the lot and well-being of society, in so doing, it ends up challenging orthodoxy and propaganda.

Therefore, governments and their apparatchik, the church and other forces within the society sometimes do see academics as their opponents and tend to suppress their efforts to research and contribute to knowledge production. It is for this reason that the right to academic freedom has been championed as a specialised right to protect academics and the university space against undue encroachment by the powers that be.

Some ways in which governments and other third parties seek to suppress academic freedom and put impediments in the way of academics seeking to fulfill their obligations to the society include inadequate provision of facilities to conduct research, poor remuneration, incarceration (among other measures).

Concluding remarks

If one understands the enormous value that lecturers bring to the marketplace, one may see why they insist on the restoration of their agreed market premium. The Labour Market Survey of 2019 (conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service) lends credence to this demand by lecturers. The survey finds that government has been under-funding tertiary education and costing the country a good number of skills that are critical to moving the country forward. Of the 851 skill types identified in tertiary education, scientific and research category, 455 skill types (representing 53.4%) have vacancies.

Of the total of number of skill types (3,108) surveyed throughout the public sector, the LMS declared 39 skill types as “highly scarce”. Of these 39 skill types, more than half (22) are in tertiary education (the highest number of highly scarce skills in the public sector).

The LMS defined a scarce skill as “… that skill which is in short supply in relation to demand for it in the labor market within a defined period…” The LMS also identified 35 of the 36 highly scarce skills as also “highly critical”, a terminology they defined as any skill that is “necessary for institutional output, the absence of which will have a negative effect on output.” But why are these skills in short supply? According to researchers who conducted the LMS, “The leading reason … is government constraints with institutional constraint a distant second” (LMS 2019 pp. v, 28). Indeed, government constraint accounts for over 75% of the reasons, whilst all other reasons (including institutional constraints) account for less than 25% (LMS 2019, p. 36).

Recommendations

  1. Studies have consistently shown that knowledge and skills affect economic growth. A government that prioritizes economic growth would take its education system (especially tertiary) very seriously.
  2. Considering that an agreed remuneration that has lasted 10 years has witnessed gross devaluation due to inflation in the intervening period, the least that government should do is simply restore such an agreement.

Source: Myjoyonline.com

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