Disgruntled university staff strike over unpaid bonuses
The university teaching staff union is demanding overtime and bonus payments and is refusing to return to work until their demands – including guarantees that non-payment of such allowances will not recur – are met.
The announcement was made in an official letter dated 17 May from the General Syndicate of Members of University Faculty, or GSMUF, to the UN-installed Presidency Council of the government of national accord.
GSMUF called for a return of “the allowance for teaching additional hours and to ensure that this is not repeated in the future, as well as amending the regulation so that it does not prejudice the rights of the university faculty members".
The union’s decision was the outcome of an emergency meeting held on the same day to discuss the decision by the Ministry of Finance, taken on 7 May, to scrap the practice of extra teaching by university staff as well as the financial allowance that went with it, until the policy was approved by the financial commission.
According to a Facebook statement on 20 May, the GSMUF decision has been endorsed by, among others, the faculty of engineering, Gado of the University of Western Mountain.
The latest strike action comes in the wake of general dissatisfaction among higher education staff over dysfunction in the higher education system.
At a recent conference on "Libyan Universities: Challenges and prospects", organised by the Maghreb Research Center on Libya and the Hanns Seidel Foundation and held in Tunisia from 13-14 April, university presidents, faculty deans and higher education experts called for the establishment of a Supreme Council of Education, or SCE, in Libya.
It is anticipated that the SCE will link the higher education sector with national economic needs and coordinate the production of skilled and employable graduates. It is proposed that the SCE should be responsible for student admission policies, staff promotions and systems related to university quality assurance and performance assessment. The SCE will also be responsible for examinations and the degree awarding process.
Libya's higher education experts also called on the government to allocate a respectable percentage of the university budget to the development of scientific research as well as building capacity in universities, including scientific and technical capacity among staff.
Another concern of teaching staff, which was raised at the conference, is security. According to a September 2016 report, produced by the UniGov consortium and co-funded by the Tempus Programme of the European Union and entitled Exploring the Challenges for Higher Education in Libya, security and politics are “the key issues” for the development of the higher education system in Libya.
Since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, political instability has given rise to a number of abductions of individuals, including university lecturers and students, by armed groups.
The latest of these, according to an Amnesty International report, is Tripoli University Professor Salem Mohamed Beitelmal.
In light of the tendency of students to take up arms and join armed militias and the growing use of drugs, the final communiqué of the conference stressed the need to keep universities free of political disputes and protect students from falling into drug networks or arms carriers, as well as rebuilding destroyed universities and securing the infrastructure necessary to ensure normal study conditions.
It also called for greater inclusion of Libya’s history and geography in university curricula and the teaching of philosophy and political education to all students.
Experts differ on what the priorities are for higher education. According to Darren Linvill, assistant professor in the department of communication of US-based Clemson University and author of a report on Higher Education and Libya’s Future, Libyan universities “should hold faculty development as central to achieving their mission”.
"Resources and assessment tools are of limited value if faculty staffs are not given the support and encouragement to be better instructors," he told University World News.
However, Hassan Moawad Abdel Al, higher education, science and technology consultant and former president of the City of Scientific Research and Technology Applications in Alexandria, Egypt, said it was difficult for Libya to progress without resolving security issues and political instability.
"Despite its huge potential and the resources, Libya, as an oil-rich country with a small population of about 6.5 million, is lagging behind as a result of civil war, violence and political instability,” he told University World News.
"Assessments, roadmaps and strategic plans for reforming higher education will continue to be ‘words in the air’ and conferences will not move beyond being ‘a talking shop’ until the security and political instability issues are solved," Abdel Al said.