Academics embark on ‘indefinite’ strike over salaries

The academic community of Sudan’s 36 public universities has embarked on an indefinite strike from 10 January to protest about the military-led government’s omission of a new salary structure from the current year’s budget.

Photos of a poster-sitting organised at 35 public universities, including seven in the capital, Khartoum, and 28 universities in other states on 16 January were posted on the Facebook page of the Committee of Staff Members of Sudanese Universities (CSMSU), and the forum of professors of Sudanese universities, faculties and higher learning institutes.

The posters focused on the conditions of service of academics, stability in higher education and the brain drain.

The committee said in a statement on 14 January that the strike had been successful so far, as it has been observed in about 30 universities with a participation rate exceeding 90% at the majority of these institutions.

Earlier, the committee said the strike was its last resort after it had exhausted “all possible means” during its engagements with relevant authorities.

According to the committee, the strike will continue until its demands have been fulfilled, except for the exams which were scheduled before 2 January and, accordingly, “we hold the relevant authorities responsible for the consequences of this strike,” the committee said.

Conditions of service for faculty members

The committee explained the reasons for the strike and its demands at a press conference on 3 January.

A member of the CSMSU noted that the conditions of service for faculty members of Sudanese universities, including the new salary structure, among other points, had been approved by the Supreme Council for Higher Education, but the document has not yet been approved in its final form by the authorities concerned.

The conditions of service include the rights and duties that guarantee stability for university professors and preserve their rights to perform their duties in teaching, scientific research and community service.

The new salary structure for academics was the result of several months of negotiations. Following the announcement of the new salaries on 7 May 2022, protest action led by the academic communities of Sudanese public universities was conditionally suspended.

The current strike, which may continue indefinitely, is taking place because the authorities concerned have failed to respond to university staff demands within the allotted time frame.

The new structure allows for a professor’s salary of SDG500,800 (Sudanese pounds) per month (US$860.48), while an associate professor would earn SDG459,486 (US$789.49).

The lowest salary for teaching staff at universities would be that of a teaching assistant, being SDG132,869 (US$228.30), according to Sudan’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

Academic community response

Professor Awad Elkarim Khalifa, the dean of the Institute of Gum Arabic Research and Desertification Studies at the University of Kordofan in Sudan, welcomed the announcement of the strike.

“As the current salaries of university staff are not enough to cover living expenses, a strike is the ideal way for the academic community to claim their rights – especially after getting no response from the concerned authorities,” Khalifa told University World News.

“The academics can minimise the negative effect of the strike on students and the educational process [by doing additional work] after the problem is solved,” Khalifa suggested.

Dr Mosab Hamad, a departmental head in the faculty of health sciences at the Elsheikh Abdallah Elbadri University in Sudan, told University World News that, given the state of the economy – including high inflation that has decreased the value of the local currency and increased living costs including health services, transportation and food – increasing salaries is not the only answer to the concerns raised by academics.

“I think it’s better to support the staff with accommodation near the university, provide free educational services for their family members from pre-primary to university levels, start university farms to supply the staff with free dairy and poultry products and vegetables along with providing them with medical insurance,” Hamad said.

Professor Mohamed Sukkar, the president of Nile University, told University World News that the current salaries of all government employees are “shameful, but we see spending [on other sectors] ... This situation is the result or symptom of poor management of the national economy,” he said.

Efforts by University World News to get a comment from the ministry of higher education and scientific research have been unsuccessful.