Private university academics protest conditions of service

Members of academic staff at private universities held a protest earlier this month outside the Sudanese Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MHESR) demanding salaries equal to their counterparts in public universities, and other reforms to private university education.

The protest on 16 August followed a call on 6 August by the Association of Sudanese Professors at private, national and foreign universities and faculties (ASPVNFUF).

"We have been subjected to injustice for 30 years because of the favouritism of the defunct regime of long-time 75-year-old former Sudanese autocrat president Omar al-Bashir in appointing faculty members in public universities, which made us reluctantly accept work in private universities with salaries that are not sufficient for a week’s food, without allowances, incentives, grants, or scholarships," the ASPVNFUF statement said.

"Following the process of overthrowing the oppressive regime of Al-Bashir in April 2019 which we directly participated in … we are still suffering from injustice even in the present era of freedom, peace and justice … Our salary is still less than that of the newest worker in the smallest private enterprise in Sudan," ASPVNFUF said.

Sudan has 36 public universities and higher education institutes, and 19 private, national and foreign universities along with 52 faculties, academies and institutes, according to the MHESR website.

ASPVNFUF demands include: an increase in salaries “similar to our colleagues in public universities”; a review of laws and regulations regulating private, national and foreign higher education institutions, which ASPVNFUF say “were tailored for the benefit of capitalists of the defunct regime”; protection from arbitrary and malicious dismissals; improvements in working conditions; and the drafting of contracts with faculty.

The association has also called for joint talks with ministry and higher education officials “in order to advance university education through developing scientific research and developing the means of education, science and knowledge".

Higher education expert Ahmed Atia, head of the department of advisory and research at the faculty of medical technology of the University of Tripoli in Libya, said the problems facing Sudanese academics in private institutions are not unique.

“[They] already exist for academic staff in equivalent higher education institutions located in most of the North African countries including Libya," Atia told University World News.

Atia called for equality in the “mechanism of contracting with the academic staff in all university types … especially in terms of teaching duties, working conditions and rights including holidays, salaries, allowances, incentives, grants, or scholarships. Moreover, qualities in laws and regulations that regulate the educational process in both private and national educational universities must be ensured."

However, Professor Gamal Abdo, director of the Water Research Centre at the University of Khartoum in Sudan, disagreed with Atia’s comparison of Sudan with the rest of North Africa.

"Colleagues in North African universities are far better off in terms of salaries, research funds, financial intensives such as funds to participate in conferences and scientific meetings," he said.

"Before the last increase in salaries for the government sectors in Sudan, private university professors used to get salaries more than three times what their colleagues in public universities used to get," Abdo said.

The salary of a Sudanese professor in a public university increased from SDG7,332 (US$133) to SDG57,795 (US$1,045) at the end of April 2020, according to figures published by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.

"However, even with such an increase, it is not sufficient for two weeks’ living due to the exceptionally high inflation rate and the severe devaluation of the Sudanese pound along with its low value due to the current free market rate," Abdo said.

"The salary now for a professor in a private university ranges between SDG30,000 (US$543) and SDG50,000 (US$905), Abdo indicated.

"Thus, I do agree with the ASPVNFUF demands. However, no matter much how the salaries are increased, it will not be sufficient for a decent living.

"Lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Sudan should be done as sanctions are the main cause of the economic crises in Sudan," Abdo said.