Within the past half year, it has become increasingly clear to the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) that the government intends to scrap the Book and Research Allowance and replace it with a National Research Fund.
This was made evident by the Minister of Finance in the 2014 Budget Statement and Economic Policy presented on November 19, 2013 to Parliament (page 31-34) under the heading “Sustaining the New Pay Policy.” The same had been confirmed in earlier pronouncements by other government functionaries on various platforms.
Even though UTAG is the major beneficiary of the existing Book and Research Allowance, Government has failed to officially engage UTAG on the issue. UTAG considers this unilateral decision by Government as an act in bad faith.
While UTAG is not against the creation of a National Research Fund, it does not believe or does it accept that it is appropriate to replace the Book and Research Allowance with such a Fund. Indeed, the idea of the establishment of a National Research Fund was mooted by UTAG in 2006 to serve as a complementary fund to and not a replacement of the Book and Research Allowance.
We believe and wish to state here that if the government goes ahead with the proposed scrapping of the Book and Research Allowance, it will have grave implications for the future of the public universities.
Core functions of UTAG members
Due to lack of sufficient public knowledge and understanding of the workings of a university, many members of the public have the misconception that the work of a university lecturer is only to teach. Contrary to this general misconception, the functions of a university lecturer or a research fellow in a university are multifaceted with the core being of the following: teaching and imparting knowledge to develop the human resource base of the country, research and dissemination of knowledge, consulting and provision of extension services to the wider community, development and administration of courses, examinations and supervision of theses, student counselling and advisory services, administration, and management.
In carrying out their many and varied functions effectively and efficiently, lecturers need to buy books (hard copies and electronic versions), computers and related accessories. They must also constantly update their knowledge by subscribing to journals in the areas of their disciplines and also subscribe to professional associations, attend conferences and workshops to present papers and interact with their peers.
Importance of research
Research is fundamental to the work of UTAG members as it helps in the constant update and upgrade of knowledge. It is also essential to the development of quality human capital and advancement of society.
It is through research that knowledge frontiers are advanced, new materials and products are developed, societal problems are addressed, and quality of life is improved in society.
In addition, research advances the lecturer’s professional development in terms of promotion. Unlike in other sectors, in the universities, the renewal of contract, and the promotion of the lecturer are tied to research and publications, and not just the number of years of service.
Why the Book and Research Allowance should not be scrapped
UTAG does not accept the scrapping of the Book and Research Allowance for a number of reasons which include the following:
First, the broadening of the frontiers of knowledge is one of the core functions of universities and the Book and Research Allowance is critical to the performance of this function. Second, the Book and Research Allowance enables small scale researches that are of immediate benefit to the nation to be carried out.
A third reason is that, as is the case with any fund, for various reasons, it is not expected that the National Research Fund will be able to support all lecturers and research fellows who apply to it for funding within a given funding cycle. For unsuccessful applicants and others, the Book and Research Allowance guarantees minimum and immediate research support as the allowance is paid across board to benefit all lecturers and research fellows.
A fourth reason but equally important is the fact that the Book and Research Allowance enables supervisors/lecturers to support their students in fieldwork and data collection. Fieldwork and similar such activities associated with students’ projects and theses enable the student to acquire research skills.
A further reason is that books, rare collections, journal articles and other literature materials acquired through the Book and Research Allowance by lecturers and research fellows are put at the disposal of students particularly during the writing of their theses and project works. These books and materials are mostly those that may not be available in the university library or are in high demand at the library and are in limited supply.
Finally, another equally important reason why the Book and Research Allowance should not be scrapped is that early career lecturers and researchers in the universities take advantage of it to start their professional development in terms of conducting research and attending conferences. Without any doubt, the scrapping of the Book and Research Allowance will hurt the career development of such category of academics.
Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get potential young academics to take up a career in academia as most graduates prefer employment with corporate organisations for a number of factors and reasons.
The few who accept teaching positions in the universities need to be mentored by senior academics through the conduct of joint small scale research and to attend local and international conferences to present and publish research findings.
This kind of support for young and upcoming lecturers to develop their skills and knowledge to become good and seasoned lecturers is facilitated by the Book and Research Allowance.
UTAG strongly believes that the proposed National Research Fund and the Book and Research Allowance can co-exist as they are not mutually exclusive; they can be used to complement each other.
The Book and Research Allowance enables the university lecturer to engage in continuous knowledge update through exploration of current knowledge frontiers in order to teach effectively and adequately supervise students’ research work, especially postgraduate research.
Besides, the Book and Research Allowance is tied to the university lecturer’s condition of service, and was introduced as a result of a collective decision taken by both the Government and UTAG. Its abolition, therefore, cannot be a unilateral decision as such an action would be tantamount to a variation of the overall conditions of service of the university lecturer; a step which may have serious ramifications. UTAG, therefore, urges the government not to act in any way that may stir the hornet’s nest.
The reasons why the Book and Research Allowance was introduced in the 1995/96 academic year are more relevant today than at any other time in the past now that student numbers resulting from increasing enrolment at the public universities have increased the research burden of the lecturer enormously.