Over 5,000 involvedUniversity profs on strike [Archives:2005/820/Local News]

February 28 2005

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

Teachers at state-owned universities in Yemen are on strike demanding an increase in salaries and an improvement of benefits.

The strike, which totals roughly 2,250 full, associate and assistant professors, with another 3,000 lecturers, started at two out of seven universities across the country on February 16 when the next semester was scheduled to begin. The staff at the other five universities joined the strike this week after final exams were completed.

“We have no deadline on when the strike will end,” said Iqbal Al-Alas, head of the Syndicate of the Teaching Body in Aden University and the official spokesman for the Union Council which coordinates the syndicates in the universities. “It is an open strike and will continue until a conclusion is reached and an agreement is signed with the government.”

According to Abdulrahman Ghanem, head of the Supreme Council of university teaching unions, the file dealing with the demands is at the Ministry of Finance. He claims that the process is moving slower than expected.

“The ministry is stalling in sending the file to the Prime Minister so that our demands can be discussed,” said Ghanem.

The faculty does not want to be included in the national strategy for wages and salaries for government employees to be discussed by the parliament because teachers do not expect it to meet their demands.

In a meeting with teachers at Sana'a University last Saturday, attended by up to 600 instructors, the Union Council described the national strategy as obscure, that it will not be applied for several years and that salaries may be lower than some professors' current salaries.

Ghanem said that Prime Minister Abdul Qader Bajammal will meet with the Minister of Higher Education, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Civil Service next Monday and discuss the teachers' demands.

“The Ministry of Finance has our proposals and their own proposals, so hopefully this Monday they will be discussed with the Prime Minister,” said Ghanem. “If we don't get some results from the meeting, we will continue to stay on strike.”

Last Wednesday the Prime Minister promised the Council to study the case, said Al Alas.

The teaching staff demands include the restructuring of the salary system, health benefits, compensation in different areas and job descriptions based on international standards.

The Council claims that the average salaries for university professors are one of the lowest in the region. A local professor in a Yemeni public university receives $600 on average, whereas the starting salary in a number of other Arab countries is between $1,500 and $2,000. The Council estimates that over the last four years at least 80 professors have left Yemeni universities and moved to the United Arab Emirates.

In Yemen, around 250,000 students are enrolled in universities, of which 90% study at public universities.

“We are striving to improve our living standards,” said Professor of Political Science Abdullah Al-Faqih. “We are also experiencing a brain drain, losing professors to teach elsewhere which can have an effect on our education standards.”

Students have expressed mixed opinions concerning the strike.

“The strike will hurt us because the lessons will be condensed after losing days or weeks out of the semester,” said a student at Sana'a University. “But it could help the professors in getting their demands and improving their conditions.”