Academic union announces HE shut-down over unmet demands

The General Syndicate of University Teaching Staff Members (GSUTSM) in Libya has announced an open-ended sit-in protest and has suspended studies in all Libyan universities until all demands relating to overseas scholarships and payment of financial dues are addressed, holding the government responsible for the impact on education.

This decision comes after an extraordinary GSUTSM meeting at Omar Al-Mukhtar University in Al Bayda on 5 September, as indicated in a GSUTSM statement, posted on its official Facebook page.

The open-ended protest includes all faculty members at all public and private universities, the Libya Open University, the Libyan Academy, higher learning institutes and technical colleges along with scientific research institutions and centres, according to the GSUTSM decision.

Faculties that have commenced final exams for the academic year 2022-23 may complete them, but it is prohibited to initiate any procedures for the new academic year 2023-24.

Ahmed Atia, head of the department of advisory and research in the faculty of medical technology at the University of Tripoli in Libya, described the protest as “the university community’s reaction to the financial pressures and difficulties they are experiencing in the sector along with the Government of National Unity’s failure to comply with an agreement mediated by the attorney general”.

Penalties for violations

Any faculty member who violates the decision of the GSUTSM will not be granted the necessary licence to practise the profession in accordance with law and its executive regulations issued by the House of Representatives, the general secretariat of GSUTSM notes.

The academic shutdown follows a comprehensive strike in 2021 over unmet demands. That strike was suspended by the GSUTSM after it reached an agreement with the government, the terms of which, the syndicate claims, have also not been met.

Reasons for the current sit-in include the government’s failure to settle the legal status of salaries for faculty members and teaching assistants, despite this being agreed upon in the negotiation phase that preceded the announcement of the sit-in on 5 September, according to a 6 September statement by GSUTSM .

“The government’s refusals to implement the laws issued by the House of Representatives and settle the legal status of salaries … mean that the salaries of most faculty members will return to less than the minimum wage of LYD950 [US$196],” the statement said.

Staff demands

GSUTSM reiterated its demands for salary increases, full financial entitlements, and the issue of authorisations for overseas graduate studies.

“The government must provide the financial support immediately to all faculty members and teaching assistants [for whom] decisions were issued to study abroad but not implemented under the pretext of rationalising expenditures, in addition to issuing study abroad decisions to those still awaiting a decision.”

GSUTSM called upon the government to implement the salary scale included in the law issued by the House of Representatives and increase the salaries of teaching assistants and faculty members.

It also called upon the government “to fulfil its obligations and pay the financial dues of faculty members and teaching assistants, including bonuses for graduate studies and sabbatical leave along with the clinical allowance for faculty members in medical colleges”.

Support for teaching assistants

The GSUTSM expressed solidarity with teaching assistants, arguing that faculty members “feel ashamed” about the position of teaching assistants who receive salaries that are less than the minimum wage.

“GSUTSM declares its commitment to defending the rights of all teaching assistants so that all their demands are met undiminished,” it stated.

The coordinating organisation of teaching assistants in the higher education and technical education sector in Libya issued its own statement on 6 September in support of the GSUTSM statement.

On 7 September, they also launched a hashtag entitled “I’m a teaching assistant”, aiming to highlight their low salaries which are approximately LYD750 (US$154.6).

Libyan academics at the highest end of the pay scale earn less than the minimum annual salary necessary to sustain a middle-class lifestyle, according to a survey of Arab public university professors’ remuneration.

Efforts by University World News to obtain comment from the media office of the Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research were unsuccessful.