On 19th of January 2017, learners across the 33 public universities in Kenya woke up to a university staff strike organized by Universities Staff Academic Union (UASU) and Kenya University Staff Union (KUSU). The two unions represent lecturers and non-teaching staff respectively. The strike is an attempt by teachers to bring the government to implement the 2013 – 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement that seeks to increase public university staff’s pay. The strike comes at a time when doctors are also on strike seeking the implementation of their own Collective Bargaining Agreement with the government.
The most affected people by the university staff strike are the students. As a student, I wonder how the lost time will be recovered. A semester is a short period comprising of a mere four months. Within this period, so much ground has to be covered in preparation for the end of semester examinations. It is every student’s nightmare to be described as half-baked, yet I’m afraid that is where our generation of scholars is headed if the government does not improve the conditions of university staff and teachers in general.
Education Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i has been a great performer. The man at the helm of Kenya’s education sector has been at the fore, spearheading education reforms. One thing that the Cabinet Secretary has not realized is that the people working in the education sector will determine whether his policies will bear fruit. These people include teachers, lecturers and non-teaching staff in educational institutions. They are his foot soldiers in the fight for education reforms. Therefore goes without saying that their living conditions have to be improved through better pay. Their remuneration has to be equivalent to the workload they face in classrooms and lecture halls. This should be the starting point even before we consider overhauling the 8-4-4 system.
The government has borrowed a dangerous precedent from its predecessors; the culture of making false promises to workers who down their tools. The government has turned it into one of the most unattractive employers to students. If a talented graduate received job offers from the government and the private sector, chances are that the graduate will pick the offer from the private sector. The private sector has perfected the art of valuing her employees. University staff and lecturers form part of Kenya’s most educated population as such we hold them in high esteem. If truly education is the key to success, why are these selfless men and women so low in the financial pecking order?
Oxfam has published a report that indicates that Kenya loses annually through corporate tax exemptions to foreign entities that choose to invest in Kenya. These are billions that could ensure that lecturers continue teaching and doctors remain in hospitals. We should identify different ways of wooing investors to our country, corporate tax exemptions should not be one of them. This is just one of the many ways through which Kenya loses revenue that could have been used to pay civil servants.
We hope that university staff and the government will find a solution to this impasse. Our lecturers belong in class, not in press conferences exchanging jabs with the government, not on the roads carrying twigs while chanting “haki yetu”.
We have to re-examine and ask ourselves where we went wrong as a country.
This article was written by Capital Campus Correspondent Collins Pasi.