Lecturer strike means years of wasted time for students
One such student is Mercy Kandia. A second-year Bachelor of Commerce student at the University of Nairobi, Kandia (23) said she has been at home for almost a year since May 2017 when the academic year ended for the long holidays.
“I was meant to report back in September last year to start my second year but because of the lecturers’ strike in July, it was postponed indefinitely,” Kandia told University World News.
“Just before we opened school again, there was another strike in November that led to a further postponement of the start date. After the strike was called off in December I received a message to resume school in January, with the specific date to be announced later. That date has never materialised and so with this third strike again, it means I will be home for even longer.”
No viable alternatives
Because the university took so long to communicate their opening date in January, Kandia said she applied to join Daystar University as a private student in order to start her degree from scratch. However, as she was waiting for her formal admission into Daystar University, it was closed indefinitely owing to financial mismanagement.
“Now I don’t know how long I will stay home doing nothing. I was meant to graduate in 2022 but I don’t see it happening,” said Kandia
Karen Kerubo (18) started as a first-year medical student at Moi University on 8 January this year – after the start date had been postponed twice as a result of the lecturers’ strike: from 28 August 2017 to 27 November 2017; then to 8 January 2018.
Two months into her studies, another lecturers’ strike kicked off, forcing her back home and delaying the scheduled April exams.
“There was no official announcement that the university had closed because of the strike but because no lecturer was coming to class, most people opted to go home,” she said.
“I am wasting time and doing nothing at home. I can’t even plan because it is not known when we shall be called back to class.”
While it was announced on 1 May that the senate of the Technical University of Kenya (TUK) had ordered a resumption of academic activities, students of that institution have also been affected by strike action.
Moses Otieno, a third-year TUK student pursuing urban and regional planning said his second semester for third-year was delayed by the strike – the third strike he has experienced since joining the university in 2015.
Rushing through courses
According to Otieno, the last strike that ended in December affected him significantly because three months’ worth of work then had to be covered in just one month in 2018.
“It was just too much but we too wanted to finish the semester on time. Lecturers were working overtime and rushing through the courses to ensure that we finished the semester on time. It was a bit confusing and not everything was covered but we had no option.”
Otieno says that although he was at home doing nothing for much of the time, he couldn’t look for a job because it was not known when the strike would be called off.
The Kenyan lecturers’ strike, which officially kicked off on 1 March this year, is the third such strike in less than a year. Lecturers have vowed to continue with the industrial action which relates to the implementation of the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Last month, a labour court’s ruling that declared the strike illegal and unprotected caused confusion for students about when the strike would end and whether the students should indeed be at home or at their universities.
Student unions in all the public universities have joined hands to push for an end to the strike and have started a social media campaign dubbed “#EndLecturersStrike campaign” to push the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the education cabinet secretary and government officials to end the strike.
Mary Ojwang, chair of the Women Students’ Welfare Association of the University of Nairobi, told University World News that the aim of the campaign is to ensure that the president, the ministry of education and the lecturers realise that the strike is affecting students.
“We aim to reach 5 million people on Twitter and Facebook separately by telling them about our frustrations as students,” said Ojwang.
“Every day we have to send 20 tweets as student leaders to the president, the media houses and the cabinet secretary at the ministry of education.”
According to Ojwang, at the University of Nairobi there was no official communication about the university’s closure, resulting in some confusion because a few lecturers turn up to teach and the next day they fail to appear.
“Some students are in school and others are at home. There is total confusion about what we as students should do,” she said.
Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said at a recent press conference in Nairobi that the ministry is committed to dealing with the matter.
“An inter-ministerial committee on university education has been set up to, among other things, determine a sustainable counter-offer for the CBA,” said Mohamed.
“The dispute between the lecturers, university staff and universities on the 2017-2021 CBA is already before the Ministry of Labour where it will be dealt with conclusively, but the lecturers have to go back to work as negotiations go on.”
According to a gazette notice published by the cabinet secretary dated 17 April, the inter-ministerial committee will sit for a period of one month within which time it will prioritise talks on the CBA and submit a report within two weeks at the end of the one month.
Samuel Siringi, associate director in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nairobi, said only university lecturers who are union officials are on strike.
“After the government stopped the salaries of striking lecturers in March, the majority are back to work. At the University of Nairobi about 1,300 lecturers were not paid their salaries in March because they did not teach and those who will not teach this month again will not receive their salaries,” Siringi told University World News.
Vice-chancellor of Moi University Isaac Kosgey said no salaries would be paid to lecturers participating in the strike at Moi.
“We shall take other disciplinary measures against those lecturers participating in the strike because it is against the court order,” said Kosgey in a public notice issued on 12 April, adding that every lecturer who resumes work has to register with their head of department.
Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) Secretary General Constantine Wasonga told University World News the strike would continue until lecturers’ demands were addressed.
He said UASU had filed a contempt of court against Mohamed and other officials for not providing lecturers with a counter proposal for the CBA and was awaiting a ruling.