Union protest over new law ends in deal with government

Senegal’s higher education union Syndicat Autonome de l’Enseignement Supérieur, or SAES, has signed an agreement with the government, bringing to an end a long-running dispute over new higher education legislation.

The signing of the accord took place on Monday 16 March, after ministers accepted a union amendment on the composition of governing boards in public universities.

The agreement followed a series of strikes and protests by SAES, which had opposed the law since its approval in August 2013 by the Presidential Council, chaired by President Macky Sall. The reform had been drawn up following a nationwide consultation on the future of higher education initiated by Higher Education Minister, Mary Teuw Niane.

The legislation, which came into force on 26 December 2014, includes measures to focus higher education on science, technology and innovation; overhaul university management and governance; and open Senegalese higher education and research to Africa and the world.

But, SAES had said, while it was not against reform, it was opposed to the law because it violated an agreement signed with the government in 2011 and had been approved by the government without union negotiation. Changes must be based on consensus and respect for the autonomy of the universities, the union had said.

Its main grievance was against the composition of universities’ administrative boards, which included 10 ‘outsiders’ – representatives from business.

In February Niane said he was prepared to meet and discuss the reforms with the unions, to provide maximum information and clear up any ambiguities.

Talks took place on Friday 13 March. Mansour Sy, minister of labour, social dialogue, professional organisations and institutional relations, said afterwards that the talks had gone well and established new initiatives, reported Sud Quotidien of Dakar.

The agreement was signed the following Monday, reported Sud Quotidien. The government accepted 12 amendments SAES had put forward, leaving only one point of dissent concerning the number of places to be made available in universities, the paper reported.

On the contentious issue of the composition of governing boards, Sy said the number of students and teaching staff had been increased, as SAES had demanded, reported Sud Quotidien. In future the number of ‘outsider’ members would be reduced from 10 to three.

The boards would comprise the university rector, seven elected lecturers and researchers, three elected students, three non-teaching members of staff, a member of parliament, one councillor from the local authority, one parent and three business representatives.

Agence de Presse Sénégalaise, or APS, quoted Sy as saying: “This agreement, which includes all interested parties, constitutes a milestone in the history of our country. It involves us all and requires us to make the university a centre of excellence, a motor of development.”

The general secretary of SAES, Ababacar Sadikh Ndiaye, said: “The government has understood that it is better to adopt a law based on consensus which enables its great projects to get started in a calm atmosphere,” reported APS.

This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.