Bonuses no answer
University professors say the government has two weeks to respond to their demands before they escalate action, reports Mona El-Nahhas
Following a meeting with the Minister of Higher Education Hani Helal late last month, professors working at state universities and scientific research centres announced their opposition to government plans to increase the salaries of university teaching staff by imposing a regime of bonuses. Under the scheme, professors supervising theses deemed by the Ministry of Higher Education to be of developmental benefit would receive supplementary payments.
Helal's suggestion met with opposition from a majority of university professors, who say that it will do irreparable harm to university education in Egypt.
"Such a system, if applied, will serve a small minority of university professors, act to increase administrative corruption and open the door to even greater interference in the internal affairs of universities," Adel Abdel-Gawwad, chairman of the Cairo University Teaching Staff Club, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "The system of bonuses suggested by the minister does not even begin to tackle the problem of low salaries paid to university professors, and what supplementary payments are made will be temporary."
"We are calling for increments to be made to basic monthly salaries," says Hussein Eweida, chairman of the Al-Azhar University Teaching Staff Club, "not sporadic one-off bonuses."
University teaching staff are demanding basic salaries be doubled. "We are not going to accept alternatives," Eweida insists.
Abdel-Gawwad stresses that professors are simply abiding by the recommendations passed last November during the fourth General Conference of University Teaching Staff which called for monthly salaries of LE3,000 to be doubled and a supplementary pension fund to be set up to help retired staff over 70 who are currently struggling on pensions of less than LE800 a month.
The committee charged with following on conference recommendations issued a statement on 31 December rejecting Helal's suggestion. Faced with the professors' objections the Ministry of Higher Education set up three committees, with members drawn from university presidents, faculty deans and the chairs of teaching staff clubs, to explore other ways of raising teaching salaries. The committees are also expected to suggest wider reforms of university education.
"Their report is due to be finished within two weeks," says Abdel-Gawwad. Their findings, and the ministry's response will then be made public at a press conference, which will also set the date for the fifth General Conference of University Teaching Staff.
The conference, which is likely to convene following the mid-year vacation, will discuss what action to take should negotiations with the ministry prove fruitless. Professors say all options are on the table, and any action could include sit- ins and strikes.
After years of negotiations that led nowhere, late last year university teaching staff decided to ratchet up the pressure on the government to meet demands that include better pay and conditions and an end to interference by the security apparatus on campuses. Sit-ins and petitions were organised and discussions have been ongoing about what measures might best force the government's hand.
The People's Assembly education committee held an urgent meeting last month to discuss the demands of teachers. Sixty MPs, many of them professors, expressed their complete solidarity with the demands of teaching staff.
"Two weeks is the last deadline we will give to the government before starting to escalate our protests," said Abdel-Gawwad.