"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 01/13/14

Monday, January 13, 2014

What ASUU REALLY went on Strike For

In order to establish a context for my international comparisons in the coming weeks, I thought it was appropriate to familiarize my readers with what the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) actually fought for—and won.
Dr. Kawu Ahidjo Abdulkadiri, a Consultant Spine Surgeon at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, sent me a really helpful article on the exact demands of ASUU, which many people seem unaware of. What follows is an edited version of the article. 

ASUU asked for and got a special salary structure for themselves called Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure II (CONUASS). This CONUASS was further made up of 3 components: A) CONUASS I [the previous one from 2007], B) Consolidated Peculiar University Academic Allowances [CONPUAA], and B) Rent.

The CONPUAA was apparently designed to capture all the other allowances that they wanted but not captured in the CONUASS. The reason why they were allowed this was because the committee agreed that “Nigerian academics represent the critical mass of scholars in the society’ and as a result of this they ‘deserved unique conditions that will motivate them ... to attain greater efficiency.” 

In exchange for this new pay, ASUU agreed to be of good behaviour and not do anything that disrupts the academic calendar to get whatever it wants, i.e. no striking. Next thing they did was to look at the countries where Nigerian academics frequently migrated to e.g. Botswana, Ghana and other developed countries. Based on this, they came up with a salary structure that would prevent this kind of brain drain. They called this Table 1 in the agreement. The highest salary anyone could earn based on this table was N7.5m per annum. But ASUU then seemingly looked at the government’s condition and took pity on them because the government didn’t have a lot of money and then gave them some sort of ‘discount’. This gave birth to Table 2 in which the highest possible salary was N6m.

ASUU president Dr. Nair Fagge
 It is the next bit that seems to have caused all the problems and it’s easy to see why. Something called Earned Academic Allowances was also agreed to by both parties. In essence, this was supposed to be a kind of piece-rate payment where ASUU members as academic staff were paid a fixed amount for each unit of work they did. So for supervising postgraduate students, a Professor was to be paid N25,000 per student while a Lecturer 1 and Senior Lecturer were to be paid N15,000 and N20,000 per student respectively.

For Teaching Practice/Industrial Supervision/Field Trips, a Professor was entitled to N100,000 per annum. Further, if a Professor did more than one field trip in a year, he would be paid separately for each one. Even though this money was for field trips, such an academic staff would be entitled to mileage and overnight allowance in line with government regulations. It’s unclear why, after being paid N100,000 for a field trip, the same person will then be entitled to mileage and overnight allowance. And what is ‘field trip’?

There was also honoraria for helping to conduct exams internally or externally ranging from N45,000 for master’s degree to N105,000 for doctorates. For moderating external undergraduate or postgraduate exams, there was a separate honoraria ranging from N60,000 for 50 undergraduate students to N80,000 for more than 10 postgraduate students.

To encourage young academics to ‘further,’ their studies, postgraduate study grants were to be given – N350,000 per session (up to a maximum of 2 sessions) for a science based masters and N500,000 per session (up to a maximum of 4 sessions) for a science-based doctorate. The figures were N250,000 and N350,000 respectively for non-science studies.

Another N200,000 was to be paid to external assessors for the position of Reader and Professor. Call duty and clinical hazard allowances were to be paid to those who qualify per existing government regulations.

It is unclear what a Responsibility Allowance is (at least to me) but a Vice Chancellor and Librarian were entitled to N750,000 per annum for this allowance while “all other officers” were entitled to N150,000.

Excess Workload Allowance was to be paid per hour to teaching staff ranging from N2,000 per hour for a Graduate Assistant to N3,500 per hour for a Professor.

The problem with these allowances is that there is no way for the government to know how much they will cost in advance. They could cost N10bn or they could cost N100bn. Lecturers would simply submit the bills and the government would have to cough up the money. You can also see that ASUU played a clever hand by giving the government a ‘discount’ on the base salaries while loading up with all sorts of allowances elsewhere. For a lecturer earning, say, N3m per annum, it won’t take much for him/her to earn an extra say 50% of that salary through all these allowances. 

 There were other non-salary benefits in the agreement as well. Each academic staff was entitled to a car loan equivalent to his/her annual salary charged at 2% for administrative cost (stop laughing). They were also entitled to a car refurbishment loan for those who wanted to refurbish their old cars, again charged at 2%. At least with a car loan you get to see the new car if you want to, but refurbishment? That’s just money in the bush. 

 For housing loans, each academic was entitled to 8 times his/her annual salary to buy a house. After 6 years’ service, an academic would be entitled to a sabbatical leave. If this sabbatical was abroad, the university would pay the “transport” costs for the academic, his or her spouse, and up to 4 children. If hospitalised, an academic would be entitled to 6 months’ paid sick leave, which could be extended for another 6 months.

Retirement age was increased from 65 to 70 and anyone who retired as a Professor would be entitled to a pension equivalent to his/her final salary. Indeed even if the Professor retired before the retirement age of 70, he would still be entitled to the final salary pension provided he had served as a Professor for 15 years in a university.

 University staff and their spouses as well as up to 4 children under the age of 18 were entitled to health insurance. There are various other benefits in the agreement but these are mainly standard stuff like maternity and 26 days leave.

 What I find interesting is that while the section on pay was quite specific in what university staff were entitled to, as soon as you get to the other sections, everything turns to a “recommendation.” So, for example, it was recommended that the government spend N472bn on the universities in 2009, N498bn in 2010 and N549bn in 2011. Somehow, the Federal Government was also supposed to fund the State Universities (at least recommended to) on a per student basis i.e. N3.7m per student in total from 2009 to 2011.

Another recommendation was for the state and federal governments to spend a minimum of 26% of their budgets on education. Of this amount, at least 50% was to be allocated to universities. Bear in mind that this was a negotiation between ASUU and the FG – the primary and secondary school interests were not represented there, but ASUU was effectively making a recommendation on how much they should get from the budget. In all this, there are 1.2m students in our universities while we need to find a way to get 10.5m children into school.

It was also recommended that the Education Tax Fund be changed to a Higher Education Fund i.e. solely for the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so scandalous. After taking 50% of the budget, the universities were to take 100% of the ETF as well. You couldn’t make it up, but then, when you start negotiations from the premise that there is a critical mass of nation-transforming scholars in our universities, this is not a surprise. I wonder if the “mumu” NUT that threatened to go on strike in solidarity with ASUU know that ASUU doesn’t really give a toss about them.

Universities were also to access the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) for the training and development of their staff i.e. more money for ASUU, and government was to grant universities duty-free importation rights for educational materials. Given that even our churches have been known to terribly abuse such waivers in the past, this is amusing, to say the least.

Where the agreement descends into outright farce is when it reaches the section on autonomy. Having demanded and obtained all the above things from the government, ASUU then proceeded to add insult to injury by asking that university autonomy and academic freedom should be “enhanced and protected.”  Note that this agreement wasn’t exactly reached with smiles and good-natured banter; it came after a strike that eventually forced the government to the negotiating table. So ASUU were not only asking the government to give them as much money as they could demand with a straight face, they were asking to be left alone to spend it and run their affairs as they wish ranging from changing the laws impeding university independence to allowing them admit students as they saw fit. You want the government to look after you and your family by paying everything you want and you want the same government to grant you freedom and autonomy. Eh?

 You can hardly come across the word ‘student’ in the agreement at all. And there is nothing specific about infrastructure in there other than the large sums of money the government was supposed to give the universities. There are many people today making ignorant noises about government ‘honouring the agreement’ and even coming up with things that are not in said agreement as ‘ASUU’s demands’. There really isn’t anything for anyone in here other than ASUU.

You can also see the sinister side of ASUU in the draft amendment bill with the way they were eager to tightly regulate the private universities via the NUC to protect themselves… going as far as recommending up to 5 year jail terms with no option of fine for anyone who so much as uses his property for the operation of an unapproved university.

Be that as it may, I think the government should honour this agreement. It should pay every last penny. That is the only way it might learn a lesson for the future. How you can send a team of ex-academics to negotiate with a team of academics on your behalf is beyond me. But, hey, I don’t know what went down in those days. Once this strike is over, prepare for the next one because as sure as night follows day, it will come.

Ultimately this document shows the impossibility of reaching an ‘agreement’ after one party has forced a negotiation via hostage taking. There is absolutely no way in this life or the next we are going to have anything approaching education reform until we break out of this death spiral of strikes and pay deals. The conversation we need to have has not even begun at all. My suggestion will be that the government should just pay ASUU whatever it is it wants right now and then begin talks on university reform i.e. the lecturers need to be in class when negotiations start. That way, we can know what everyone really wants.

Dr. Abdulkadiri can be reached at ahidjokawu@yahoo.com



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