Uganda’s treasured tertiary education could be grounded next year if government does not clear teaching and non-teaching staff’s arrears to the tune of Shs 30bn.
In a confidential letter sent to Education Minister, Ms Janet Museveni, the Forum for Academic Staff of Public Universities in Uganda (FASPU) and Public Universities Non-Teaching Staff Executive Forum (PUNTSEF) said government has up to the end of year to clear the pending arrears.
Titled “The Withdraw of labour in public universities” the letter dated December 3, sought to remind Ms Museveni about the Finance Ministry’s failure to fulfill its commitment to clear the outstanding amount of money.
The associations said several ministers reaffirmed “government’s commitment to clear the outstanding salary enhancement balance of Shs 29.5bn in the financial year 2017/2019.”
However, they quickly added, “Despite all these assurances, we have not seen any tangible progress of receiving the money and an enhanced salary structure.”
In a joint FASPU-PUNTSEF strategic meeting held at Makerere University on December 3, “members unanimously resolved to withdraw their labour in all public universities effective semester two for the academic year 2018/2019 in case we do not receive money in January 2019.”
The affected public universities include Busitema University, Gulu University, Kabale University, Kyambogo University, Lira University, Makerere University, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Muni University and Soroti University.
While government has previously played ping pong with public university servants over salaries and allowances leading to strikes; educationists are warning such developments dent the image of Uganda’s education sector.
Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, a prominent educationist, warned “if the strike happens, public institutions will continue to lose international and local students to private universities. It’s also bad for partnerships as foreign universities don’t want to partner with unstable universities.”
Uganda receives about 3,000 international students annually with each paying about $3,000 per year.
This means foreign students bring in about $9m (Shs 30bn) per annum in tuition and related fees not to mention money spent on accommodation, food and entertainment.
A case in point is Kabalagala and Kansanga Towns in Kampala which have developed as a result of a huge enrolment of international students.
Baryamureeba, who is the Chairperson Board of Directors, Uganda Technology and Management University (UTAMU), says it has “become predictable that at least once a year, staff in public universities will strike or threaten to strike. Several reports of committees and the last one being the Rwedeire report have been produced.”
He argues government needs to study these reports and implement key recommendations with hope there will be an everlasting solution.
According to the associations’ representatives, Grace Lubaale and Jackson Betihamah, State Minister of Finance David Bahati, Public Service Minister Muruuli Mukasa and Treasury Secretary Keith Muhakanizi promised to have the university public servants’ arrears cleared in vain.
The continuous threats from the affected staff raise concerns about government’s ability to sustain a huge payroll for public servants in universities.
In the 2018/19 financial year, the total wage bill rose from Shs 3.36 trillion the last FY to Shs 4.66 trillion in the FY 2018/19 as government implemented salary enhancements of public servants.
Makerere University was allocated Shs 18 billion for salary enhancement, Mbarara University Shs 2.6 billion, Makerere University Business School (MUBS) Shs 1.5 billion, Kyambogo University Shs 4.1 billion, Kabale University Shs 1.2 billion, Busitema University Shs 2.2 billion, Gulu University Shs 2.3 billion, Soroti University Shs 420 million, Lira University Shs 842 million and Muni University Shs 589 million.
But the fact that government is struggling to pay the arrears calls for a more feasible business model.
Baryamureeba agrees with this idea, saying, “my government in the short term should implement a funding model that does not directly involve it in directly providing funds but at the same time it should be willing to allow the universities charge fees they consider appropriate to supplement what they have received from government.”
Asked if such a move would not deprive poor people quality education, Baryamureeba responded: “That’s the issue. If government wants the poor to get quality education, it must increase funding to the education sector to at least 20 percent of the budget and at the same time it must put in place measures to control birth-rate. In Rwanda today a family has an average of 3 children. Whereas in Uganda its 7 children per family.”