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Junior teaching staff in public universities overpaid

By VENANSIOUS BARYAMUREEBA

ARTICLE SUMMARY: A Teaching Assistant in a public university who holds a bachelor’s degree earns at least shillings 1.7 million (USD 654) compared to an average of shillings 700,000 (USD 269) paid in most organizations to a bachelor’s degree holder not holding a managerial position.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY: Prof. Venansious Baryamureeba is vice chancellor of Uganda Technology and Management University and former vice chancellor of Makerere University.

A local newspaper published an article on July 24 which based on staff establishments approved by university councils to conclude that public universities in Uganda were in a staffing crisis.

First of all most of the staffing establishments of public universities in Uganda are outdated as they were approved at least three years ago. Secondly, the basis of the approved establishments was projected student (undergraduate and postgraduate) numbers. The article did not say whether these numbers were realized. In most cases staff establishments are overestimates expected to cater for student increments over a long period of time, as they are not reviewed annually.

When assessing staffing levels in universities it is better to use staff-to-student ratios based on current staff and student enrollments at both University and unit levels. Approved staffing establishments can be deceptive.

As an example, Makerere University has a total of 35,000 fulltime students. At the time of compilation of the Auditor General's Report (that is three years old), Makerere University had 1,484 academic staff. Assuming that this is still the case, it translates to a staff-to-student ratio of 1,484: 35,000, which = 1: 24 at university level. In science based units at Makerere University, the average staff-to-student ratio is about 1:10. When it comes to humanities, the average staff-to-student ratio is about 1:30. This trend cuts across all public universities. These ratios as per the National Council for Higher Education indicator are not bad.

So where is the problem? All public universities to a great extent lack senior academic staff, and that is to say, staff at the rank of senior lecturer, associate professor and professor in most academic units. Secondly the academic staff is not optimally utilized as a result of poor timetabling and monitoring of activities academic staff are supposed to engage in.

The third problem is that senior academic staff (senior lecturers, associate professors and professors) is underpaid where as teaching assistants and assistant lecturers are overpaid. The salary of lecturers does not match with the current market rates if compared with the pay in both the public and private sectors with the exception of a few authorities that pay outlier salaries.

To be precise, a Teaching Assistant in a public university who holds a bachelor’s degree earns at least shillings 1.7 million (USD 654) compared to an average of shillings 700,000 (USD 269) paid in most organizations to a bachelor’s degree holder not holding a managerial position. Whereas an Assistant Lecturer in a public university who holds a master’s degree earns at least shillings 1.9 million (USD 730) compared to an average of shillings 1.2 million (USD 462) paid in most organizations to a master’s holder not holding a managerial position.

Thus according to prevailing market rates, Teaching Assistants and Assistant Lecturers in Public Universities are overpaid.

The government needs to look into the salaries of senior academic staff (senior lecturers, associate professors and professors) that are currently underpaid. The good thing is that these are few, so the total increment is affordable by the government.

The government’s attention should be directed to teachers, nurses and other low-paid staff most of whom hold bachelor’s degrees yet they still earn less than shillings 700,000. The other category that needs special attention are the medical doctors who spend six years including internship year at University and still earn less than shillings 1 million in government health facilities.

But at the end of the day, as a country we need a salary commission to be responsible for setting and reviewing salaries of all public servants. This will help to avoid a situation where you have a teacher in a secondary school with a master’s degree earning less than shillings 600,000 yet an Assistant Lecturer at a public university who earns more than three times that salary – who earns at least shillings 1.9 million is agitating for a salary increment.

Salary reviews and increments should always be looked into across the public sector during budgeting period by a competent body like a salary commission.

 

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