University professors being heard [Archives:2005/805/Community]

January 6 2005

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

Some progress has been made with the government on the demands of professors from seven public universities across the country.

Mohammed Mottahar, Vice Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said that the Ministry of Finance is looking into the professors' proposal based on the changes they are asking for.

“The file is within the Ministry of Finance. The ministry will look into the financial implications and will develop options that can be discussed,” said Mottahar, “then negotiations can begin.”

According to Iqbal Said 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, the demands include the restructuring of the salary system, health benefits, compensation in different areas and job descriptions based on international standards.

Al-Alas pointed out that the average salaries for university professors are some of the lowest in the region. He said that 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.

“Unfortunately, we are losing a number of professors who are drawn by a better income in other countries in the region,” said Al-Alas.

Over the last four years, at least 80 professors have left Yemeni universities and moved to the United Arab Emirates alone.

At a meeting at Sana'a University last Thursday, the representatives of the syndicates decided that the professors may strike after Eid Al-Adha if not enough progress is made.

“We in the Council agreed to give time until Eid Al-Adha ends,” said Abdul Rahman Ghanem, the current head of the Council. “If there is a response to the demands, that is good. If not, then we'll hold a strike in seven universities at the beginning of the next term at Sana'a University and the beginning of exams in six universities.”

The Council would like to see in the near future one of three things: a government response that clarifies its position on the professors' demands, the Ministry of Finance forming a committee to negotiate, or the government setting a timeline for negotiations. “Each would show a sign that something is happening and that the government is acting on the issue,” said Al-Alas. “Up until recently, the government had not looked at the file.”

Within the universities that are in the major cities, there are 2,250 full, associate and assistant professors, with another 3,000 lecturers. There are roughly 250,000 students enrolled in universities, of which 90 per cent attend public universities.

A number of students said that they would not be happy if a strike occurs, but they would still like to see the professors' demands met which in turn would benefit the students in the long run.

“A lot of professors have other jobs because their salaries are not enough to support their families,” said a student at Sana'a University. “In 2001 there was a three-month strike, and the curriculum and the exams were then condensed into a month. It had a negative effect on us. But it is important that they take care of the professors so the professors can take care of us and the curriculum.”