Lecturers enter moonlight zone

May 10, 1996

Lecturers at Makerere University in Uganda are running small restaurants in the capital city Kampala to supplement their income. Colleagues, equally hard hit by the falling value of their salaries, survive by moonlighting and running businesses such as grocery kiosks.

But others, especially in medicine, engineering and other applied sciences, who regard running kiosks as being beneath their dignity, have been leaving Makerere for other universities in southern Africa.

As a general election approaches the remaining lecturers have gone on strike demanding higher wages and asking the government of Yoweri Museveni to undertake far-reaching higher education reforms.

The strike began on April 16, after talks between leaders of the Makerere University Staff Association and the university council broke down. Staff at the Uganda Polytechnic at Kyambogo joined forces with the lecturers. Their aim is a minimum wage of $2,500 per month for a full professor, up from $1,300.

However, this is being interpreted as unrealistic in a country where $1 is equivalent to 1,000 Uganda shillings. The polytechnic lecturers are also demanding to be paid salary arrears totalling several million Uganda shillings.

The ministry of education is yet to respond to this new demand because it fears that the unrest might spread to other institutions.

John Subuwufu, Makerere's vice chancellor, has been holding meetings with officials from the education, finance and economic ministries.

Mukiibi Katende, chairman of the lecturers' association, says it is about time that lecturers were paid real market rates.

"The government should privatise Makerere and other institutions of higher learning, to pave the way for students to pay full-cost fees for their education," he said.

Lecturers propose that tuition fees should go up to about $300 per year - a lot of money in Uganda. Students argue that if they are asked to pay such sums then many of them will have to drop out.

The dispute between lecturers and the university has been running since 1989. Lecturers have demanded higher wages and better conditions. At the same time students have opposed any bid to increase wages by charging fees - as proposed by the World Bank.

In the meantime the government has scrapped student grants and raised tuition fees for foreign students. The students have responded by refusing even to pay minimal registration fees, amounting to $3.

The lecturers' strike threat is being interpreted by many pro-establishment politicians as an attempt to blackmail the government. They argue that the lecturers are trying to sabotage the government's efforts to provide higher education during the run up to the general election.

The lecturers maintain that their grievances are genuine and there is no link between the strike and the elections.

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