KYAMBOGO University lecturers last week went on strike following the expiry of an ultimatum that they all be integrated as permanent staff.
The strike, the second this year, paralysed lectures at the three-year old university, which is a merger of the former Institute of Education Kyambogo (ITEK), the Uganda Polytechnic Kyambogo (UPK) and the Uganda National Institute of Special Education (UNISE).
The main source of the conflict between the administration and the academic staff stems from how to integrate staff from the three mother institutions into the new university structure without compromising standards set by the National Council of Higher Education (NCHE). There are also allegations that the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Lutalo Bossa, the University Secretary, Katushabe Ssemwezi and the Bursar, A.D Biganja, were irregularly appointed.
The administration is at crossroads to restructure the university and at the same time retain all the staff from the former institutions as guaranteed under the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001 and as amended in 2003.
The Act, that offered automatic absorption of all staff, has put Kyambogo University in an awkward position with the NCHE guidelines that it is unacceptable for a university to have less than 10% of its lecturers without a Doctorate of Philosophy degree (PhD). The council recommends that a modern university should have at least 60% PhD holders, which is rated as ideal, 50% rated as good, 15-50% is rated acceptable, 10% can be improved but anywhere lower than 10% is unacceptable.
Of the 328 academic staff, only 17 (5.2%) are PhD holders, 189 (57.6%) have Masters degrees, 104 (31.7%) are first degree holders, while 18 (5.5%) had no academic qualifications at all.
A K-2 Consults report also says that although modern universities needed a big base of PhD holders, some lecturers at Kyambogo hold only diplomas and were senior lecturers in the old institutions.
An attempt by the university to implement a restructuring report on detailing the terms and conditions of service, appointments and how to manage redundancies suffered a setback. The appointment of only qualified lecturers into the academic staff, leaving out those with inadequate qualifications, resulted in a court litigation that the university lost because the law guaranteed retention of all staff of the merged institutions.
After the court decision, a consultative meeting was held on July 2, 2006 to look for the way forward. It was attended by, among others, the education minister Namirembe Bitamazire, the academic staff and the University Council members.
State minister for justice Fred Ruhindi on July 5, 2006 advised the parties to respect the 1995 Constitution, The Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001 taking into account the fact that these were all different independent institutions with different terms and conditions of service.
While Ruhindi noted that the University Council had powers to set the terms and conditions of service, the big question remains how to deal with the excess staff whose absorption is guaranteed by law, but who do not fit in under the new university structure.
The 1998 task force set up by the Ministry of Education to advise on the merger unanimously endorsed the merger and recommended the management structure.
The task force, headed by Dr. F. F. Tusubira of Makerere University, also had both the chairpersons of ITEK and UPK as well as the principals of the two institutions. In June 2001, the Ministry of Education appointed Prof. Lutalo Bossa as acting vice-chancellor, but the striking lecturers want him out, saying his appointment was irregular.
Following an earlier strike in 2006, an ad-hoc committee, chaired by Dr. Frank Nabwiso was appointed to look into the university problems. While admitting that Bossa was irregularly appointed, the committee said the appointment should remain to avoid contractual problems. The committee however, cleared the university secretary and the bursar of any irregularities in their appointments.
The Nabwiso committee recommended among others that since former UPK staff were appointed by the Ministry of Public service, the university should, as soon as possible, submit their names to the Ministry of Public Service to enable it prepare letters of transfer of service to Kyambogo University.
But clarifications after a meeting on September 1, 2006 between the state minister for higher education and the university staff brought more confusion. It was clarified that former ITEK and UNISE staff would have their letters of transfer of service written by the university and not the ministry. It was also clarified that in the case of the former UPK staff, the letters would be written by the Ministry of Education. On receiving the letters, individuals would write to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Public Service, through the vice-chancellor and permanent Secretary Ministry of Education and Sports applying for transfer of service.
One of the major issues of contention is whether the appointments should be backdated to July 25, 2003, when the first academic staff appointments were made. Backdating the appointments would benefit some of the staff, but might affect other staff, for example, staff who have been under-paid would be eligible to earn their arrears. But will those who have been overpaid all along accept to have their salaries deducted? This is one of the questions that is baffling staff. However, consultations with the Attorney General over this issue are going on.
The Nabwiso committee in their recommendations had advised that the process of absorption of staff into Kyambogo University should commence immediately and be completed by mid-October and that consolidation of salaries should be effected after consultation with the Ministry of Public Service. The current strike therefore, resulted from failure by the lecturers to see tangible action by mid-October.
The dilemma at Kyambogo University