UTAG’s strike: Some upshoots
UTAG’s indefinite strike, which commenced on January 10, 2022, has hit many.
It is extremely worrying that the trump card in teachers’ salary negotiation is constantly withholding the precious activity of knowledge creation and sharing.
It works because no stakeholder wants to derail the academic calendar: Learners desire to either advance or complete programmes.
Parents do not relish any lingering time for paying tuition, the employer does not want to be unpopular, and basically, that trump card secures government’s acquiescence.
The paradox of that trump card is that teachers who ought to nurture students’ appreciation for critical learning rather model materialism, thus, trample the fundamental classroom rationale of prioritising knowledge.
Learners pick the materialistic mindset, which explains the disturbing trend of many growing Ghanaians simply wanting to take.
That spirit of being entitled to, currently dominant among a bigger cross-section of Ghanaians, has emanated from the culture of always taking from government, even though government possesses nothing, but the resources taxed from the people whose intelligence and diligence are nurtured to explore and live by the natural endowments of the nation.
It is true that unions must negotiate working conditions that align with current realities, even as the employer also strategises to save revenue.
There is also no gainsaying what every employee can do with a little bit of extra money, but all ought to occur within certain ethical lines and the realities of the times.
In the January 9, 2022 online issue of the Daily Graphic, UTAG claimed “non-determination of Market Premium (MP), an interim payment measure frozen in 2013 for a market survey to determine deserving beneficiaries.”
Its bone of contention was that the survey failed to resolve the issue. However, the association also appeared to be circumventing.
What precipitated the freezing? Good communicators do not simply rely on information given; they also consider the implications of what is not shared.
Is the non-determination an omission or a hint that universities are short-changing the employer and job market?
The worsening unemployment situation over the period due to graduates seeking jobs instead of creating jobs, compulsory entrepreneurship training notwithstanding, is not exactly an argument for teachers’ unique market relevance.
Industry disparages graduates’ skills. The previous government may have suspended the MP, but the current government has had to initiate the National Builders Corps to enhance graduates’ skill in technology while temporarily engaging them across sectors.
Additionally, it has had to establish an entrepreneurship programme for graduates and other youth, alongside skill development programmes, also accompanied by a solid ICT initiative for learners, all from the same national revenue, about 60 per cent of which goes to pay salary, teachers’ taking an appreciable chunk.
Elsewhere, universities invest heavily in ICT to render teaching/training current to address employment mismatch.
Contrarily in Ghana, government must enhance technological skills of graduates.
In other communities, even traditional universities consider industrial retraining of graduates upon employment as an indictment and are strenuously exploring internships to make their graduates marketable.
Ghanaian universities “churn out” graduates who are retrained en mass by the government.
How is that a prime for a market premium? Is government’s persistent bowing to teacher unions’ demands fair to the taxpayer, a cross-section of whom are parents who pay for learners’ education, which renders them susceptible to underutilisation, unemployment?
Government recommends that UTAG liaises with the Public Services Commission to train human resources for higher positions.
The association’s response is numbing: “How can such a National Agenda be attained if the CoS of the university teacher keeps worsening year on year leading to an ever-increasing attrition rate on our campuses?
Instead of affirming its training capability, UTAG is using its “relatively poor salary stead” to justify its inability to develop capacity, as well as its unwillingness to collaborate to that effect.
UTAG is angling for a raise in research allowance, glossing the poor research culture of the institutions.
Currently, for many tertiary learners, research is plagiarising existing material – labelled grandfather – or paying someone to conduct investigation.
The scourge has infected a cross-section of teaching elements who barely possess research skills.
Every year, major research funds remain untouched. Why does UTAG jump capacity building to focus on research?
Indeed, one needs major funding for some research, but studies can also be conducted frugally.
UTAG’s focus should be action and pragmatic research to unearth best practices to save the ailing educational system.
Industry needs capable people to conduct research for innovation. Universities offer the best destination.
By not developing capacity, UTAG is its own nemesis. It is only in the debilitating government-must-do-it-all Ghanaian system that universities constantly batter sitting governments for research allowance.
Government is partly to be blamed for its skewed negotiation culture, for its consistent failure to insist on diligence, for failing to drive a learner-focused bargain.
The PM negotiation is conditioned on unique service, which relevance is not clouded in teacher knowledge only but made tangible through competent graduates.
In the past decade, how have the institutions lived up to capacity building for the Ghanaian market?
Considering that university teachers have already acquired knowledge and are teaching, how has that knowledge translated into graduates that employers desire?
Government’s recommendation to UTAG to collaborate for higher capacity building is a poignant reminder of a very harsh reality.
UTAG should not limit PM to itself, for a teacher’s relevance is linked to the learner’s eventual empowerment.
Halving the PM equation to make it apply to UTAG only implies holding learners to ransom.
The current reality in Ghana is high unemployment, low productivity and poor service delivery.
At a time when universities annually “churn out” graduates, how does UTAG answer to dwindling capacity building, poor work ethics vis-à-vis universities’ core values and strategic plans for excellence?
It is time the negotiating paradigm changed to level the ground for government, teachers and learners, for learners’ interests to become an inherent part of the equations on the negotiating table.
There are urgent reasons for that. If government paid better attention, it would pick the faint wails of the oppressed learner being submerged by handouts that have dethroned meritocracy in the classroom.
Many teachers are speedily losing their grasp for developing learners’ capacity.
The Ghanaian challenge is adding quality to training.
Currently, it is a harrowing experience to seek services from many in the country – from education through trading, health building to agriculture – to name five.
It is a depraved situation calling for redress. Conditions of service do not exist in a vacuum; it is a motivation for teaching excellence.
That dimension has been smothered. Government neglects that balance to the taxpayer’s peril.
It will increase salary without commensurate productivity, as usual, then turn round to fleece the taxpayer.
Why is it that government and teachers eat sour grapes, and the taxpayer’s teeth are set on edge?
The writer is a Lecturer; Communication Skills, Takoradi Technical University, Takoradi.