As strike ends, universities commit to making up lost time

After 54 days of strike action, teaching and learning finally resumed in public universities in Kenya last week Tuesday with university councils being tasked with re-working the semester timetable to make up for lost time.

The end to the lecturers' strike follows the signing last Monday of the contested collective bargaining agreement and brings relief to thousands of students in 33 public universities and their constituent colleges where learning had been largely suspended for the last six weeks.

The new deal between the Inter-Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum and the Universities Academic Staff Union or UASU will see a 17.5% increase in basic salary and 3.9% increment on house allowances, except in the case of the Maasai Mara University where previous salary increments were taken into account.

Academic staff at Maasai Mara University, according to UASU, are paid more than their colleagues in other public universities, a discrepancy that led the striking lecturers to demand that their salaries be revised upwards using the Maasai Mara University rates as the basis for basic salary scales for all academic staff in public universities.

‘Victory for unions’

Announcing the strike’s end, UASU’s Secretary General Constantine Wasonga said reaching a settlement had required a collective effort from UASU members countrywide.

“I congratulate all members of the union for this victory,” said Wasonga who confirmed that the union’s members would resume teaching and research the following morning. Wasonga said that under the signed collective bargaining agreement, which expires in three months’ time, academic staff will benefit from arrears that have accrued over the four past years covered by the agreement.

According to local newspaper the Daily Nation, full professors will get in excess of KES1 million (US$9,700) in arrears each, while the lowest paid staff – tutorial fellows and assistant lecturers – will pocket over KES800,000 (US$7,700) each.

A return-to-work formula had also been signed between UASU and the Inter-Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum leading to the withdrawal of suspension letters that had been circulated to the lecturers.

Making up for lost time

Wasonga has also asked university management teams and university senates to revise the semester timetable so as to facilitate the recovery of lost academic time. The universities have already lost over six weeks out of the 16-week semester. An academic semester in Kenya usually consists of 14 weeks of learning and two weeks of examinations.

Institutions such as the University of Nairobi and Moi University expect students to attend at least 70% of lectures before writing examinations.

It will be the task of university councils to issue guidance on the revision of the January-April semester dates. For 22 university councils this will be among their first tasks following last Tuesday’s announcement by Cabinet Secretary for Education, Science and Technology Dr Fred Matiang’i on the constitution of new university councils at 22 public institutions following the expiry of the tenure of existing councils.

A snap survey by University World News found that learning had indeed recommenced last Tuesday in a number of universities, particularly in respect of privately-sponsored and postgraduate students.

Cash-strapped students

Other students who were forced to leave their campuses after they were closed by the strike, said that they were preparing to travel back to their institutions over the weekend in order to start again next week. The biggest problem for them was finding the money to return.

“I have to prepare by sourcing money for bus fare, hostel rent and personal needs because I live very far from school,” said Snyder Arusa, an education student at Maseno University.

Arusa urged the Higher Education Loans Board or HELB to increase its allocation to government-sponsored students as most of them had spent their money during the strike on living expenses.

“Some students, especially from poor backgrounds, entirely depend on HELB loans; they may get stuck as they have spent most of their allocation for this semester on transport to their homes and other needs.”