New general staff union to tackle university challenges

A nation-wide union of university staff has been established to represent both academic and non-academic employees. The move comes in the wake of discontent over the passing last year of the 2016 University Law, which university staff believe does not serve their interests.

To be known as the General Union for the Staff of the Libyan Universities (GNSLU), the body is managed by a 15-member committee elected on 1 February at a meeting held at the University of Tripoli attended by representatives of 20 Libyan universities, according to the GNSLU Facebook page.

"Besides representing the views, opinions, queries and concerns of the professional staff and non-academic employees at all Libyan universities and higher education institutions, GNSLU will emphasise employees’ duties and responsibilities before demands," Essam Mahmoud Awidan, chairman of GNSLU and software engineer at Tripoli University, told University World News.

GNSLU will also apply modern performance standards to measure the skills of university employees and promote their professional development and to ensure excellence in performance, according to Awidan.

"Our vision is to become a pioneer body among university employee bodies at regional and international level," Awidan said.

Libya has 12 public universities, five private universities, 16 state technical faculties and 91 higher technical and vocational institutes that serve half a million Libyan students in all fields of higher education. Over half of these students (59%) are female and most students (around 90%) are enrolled in public universities, according to a June 2014 British Council report.


“This body will face many of the same forms of challenge that similar bodies across the globe face when representing their fellows," said Darren Linvill, assistant professor in the department of communication studies of United States-based Clemson University and author of a July 2017 media article about the plight of Libya’s academics.

"They will face two primary challenges: first, all too often administrations and governing bodies overseeing academia do not fully engage with faculty and staff associations and do not take advantage of the expertise they have to offer,” Linvill said.

"The ability to speak on behalf of one's colleagues does not mean that one will be listened to, and ensuring that their voice is heard will be difficult.”

"This organisation, like every other group of academics, will almost constantly disagree on both small and large issues. That disagreement is important, however, as from the discussion that results, multiple perspectives will be heard and, hopefully, intelligent consensus can be made," he said.

"The group should focus on identifying ways in which employees working in higher education, across various disciplines, can work for the future of Libya."

The first challenge for the fledgling union comes in the form of the University Law. When it was approved by the Libyan House of Representatives last August, it was met with strikes, demonstrations and vigils that halted the educational process in universities, according to news reports.

Criticism of the law

Several higher education bodies, including the Supreme Council of Libyan Universities and two syndicates of Libyan universities and the General Union of Faculty Members of Libyan Universities, have rejected the law.

According to a local news report, the Supreme Council of Libyan Universities rejected the law owing to the state of political division in the country, noting that if it is approved in the eastern Libyan region, it would be rejected in the West and vice versa.

Besides ignoring important segments of the Libyan university communities, such as employees and students, the legal texts of the law were characterised by shortcomings in regulations, including entrenched inequality among faculty members, it said.

Six Libyan universities, namely, the University of Tripoli, University of Benghazi, Omar Al-Mukhtar University, Tobruk University, Ajdabiya University and Mohamed Ben Ali Senussi University sent joint comments on the law to the second deputy in the House of Representatives and the chairman of the education committee, according to a local news report.

In addition to calling for a rise in the salaries of university employees, they sought a 5% budget allocation for training of employees, including technicians, administrators and financial professionals. They also called for the introduction of mechanisms to address the crises such as displacement and insecurity facing students, and the provision of alternative learning ways such as e-learning.

In its own comments on the law, the General Union of Faculty Members of Libyan Universities, called for:
  • • Suspension of the law and the continuation of the 2010 law and regulations;
  • • Returning the draft law to universities to give them an opportunity to respond and record their observations through the competent authorities in accordance with the legislation in force;
  • • Non-exclusion of university employees from some leadership positions;
  • • The adoption of rewarding and proportionate salary scales for university faculty members and employees;
  • • Provision of medical insurance to the working groups in universities in accordance with the legislation in force;
  • • In the appointment of a university faculty member, prioritisaton of a university employee who obtained a masters degree or doctorate from universities recognised locally or internationally; and
  • • Priority for admission to postgraduate programmes for technicians, administrative and financial professionals who have obtained specialised bachelor degrees and have recommendations from their departments to study in the faculties of the university according to their specialisation.
Responding to news of the union’s formation, Samir Khalaf Abd-El-Aal, research professor at the National Research Centre in Cairo, told University World News that university staff and university employees’ associations should join forces to form academic and administration communities in order to build Arab universities’ expertise in promoting professional development.

The proposed network should establish a database of regional and international laws governing universities which could guide Arab countries in preparing regulations for universities which meet international standards.

"Every country should not have to re-invent the wheel when it wants to prepare universities laws as it could learn from best practices and use other countries’ law after adapting it to its circumstances," Abd-El-Aal said.