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UTAG suspends strike: Lectures start Monday

BY: Kweku Zurek, Dickson Worlanyo Dotse & Jemima Okang Addae
Prof. Solomon Nunoo, President of UTAG, flanked by Dr Akyene Tetteh (left), Treasurer and Dr Asante-Annor, Secretary, addressing the press conference in Accra yesterday
Prof. Solomon Nunoo, President of UTAG, flanked by Dr Akyene Tetteh (left), Treasurer and Dr Asante-Annor, Secretary, addressing the press conference in Accra yesterday

Public universities are likely to begin formal lectures on Monday following the vote by the National Executive Council of the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) to suspend its seven-week strike.

Subsequent to the NEC action, the local branches of the 15-member UTAG are voting to accept or reject the decision to suspend the strike, a process which will take five days.

The authorities of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) said lectures would however start tomorrow, while the University of Education, Winneba (UEW) chapter of UTAG had, at its meeting yesterday, voted to reject the NEC decision to suspend the strike.

But for the NEC meeting, the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) would have resumed academic activities last Thursday, as the university issued a timetable for the resumption of academic activities after the Accra High Court had ordered the striking lecturers to call off their strike and return to the lecture theatres.

Other local chapters of UTAG have between now and Friday to decide which side of the NEC decision they stand, but some management members of selected public universities told the Daily Graphic that they would firm up their calendars to begin academic activities.

Press conference

Following overwhelming appeals from student groups, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education, eminent leaders, among others, the NEC of UTAG last night voted to temporarily suspend the seven-week strike.

At a press conference in Accra yesterday, the President of UTAG, Prof. Solomon Nunoo, said the NEC had, at an emergency meeting last Monday, resolved to heed the pleas and suspended the strike till March 4, this year.

That, he said, was to enable the association to engage with the government over poor conditions of service of university teachers.

He, however, stressed that UTAG would not hesitate to resume the suspended strike should the government renege on its commitments at the end of the stipulated period of negotiations.

While urging UTAG members to "rally behind leadership and remain calm and resolute", Prof. Nunoo said he was hopeful that with the involvement of the Parliamentary Select Committee and other eminent persons, including former President John Agyekum Kufuor, Sir Sam Jonah and the National Security Minister, Mr Albert Kan-Dapaah, the government would carry through its promises this time around.

"At many forums, the employer has agreed with stakeholders that there is the need to improve the conditions of service of university teachers. Thus we are cautiously optimistic that the government will do the needful to improve the working conditions of the university teacher," he said.

“Lastly, we call on the government to see to the implementation of the several agreements that have been signed in recent times," the UTAG President said.

Lost contact hours

Responding to a question on whether UTAG members would work extra hours to make up for lost contact hours and help restore the academic calendar, Prof. Nunoo said that decision could be made only by the management of universities.

"Only the management of universities — the vice-chancellors, the academic boards and the university councils — can make decisions about contact hours," he explained.

Court cases

Prof. Nunoo also said negotiating with the government would not affect UTAG’s ongoing court case challenging an injunction placed on the strike by the High Court.

"These are two different issues — one is to negotiate and the other is about the legality of our strike. On our part, we will continue fighting the case in court because we believe it's the right thing to do and we need to bring finality to these things because we believe it is something labour must get done and we are getting it done," he added.

Students respond

Some students in some public universities have welcomed the suspension of the seven-week strike by their lecturers, saying they are prepared to comply with plans to salvage the rest of the academic calendar.

They, however, appealed to the government to do all it could to meet the demands of the university teachers, so that they would not leave the lecture theatres, since they had made it clear that the suspension was temporary.

This came to light when the Daily Graphic visited the campuses of some universities in Accra, Cape Coast and Kumasi.

UCC

At the University of Cape Coast (UCC), some students were seen studying in groups, while others loitered around.

Some of the students said while the suspension of the strike was a relief, it had saddled them with so many challenges.

A Level 200 student, Tony Yeboah, said: "Some of us lost preparedness and readiness to study at the time of the strike, which will adversely affect our ability to absorb the entire course outline for the semester."

"We would want to urge the government to take a close look at our lecturers' demands and move quickly to address them in order to avoid strikes that exhaust both students and lecturers,” a Level 400 student, Mustapha Issahaku, said.

The Director of Public Affairs at the UCC, Major Kofi Baah-Bentum, expressed the hope that academic activities would resume soon after the UCC chapter of UTAG had voted on the NEC decision.

He said because students were already on campus, getting the academic calendar up and running would not be cumbersome.

UG

The University of Ghana (UG) campus looked a little busy at the time of the visit around noon yesterday, as students seemed to be going about their own business.

A final-year student told the Daily Graphic that it was that time to meet up with supervisors and other students to work on long essays and projects.

A third-year student, Bill Clinton Prempeh, said he expected lecturers to force students to study hard in order to cover the entire semester.

“It was wrong for them to use us as leverage against the government and now we are going to pay the price because if they resume, they will force the entire course outline on us within a couple of weeks,” he said.

A final-year student, who identified himself as Albert Jerry, said he expected the university to revert to the modular system where semesters were truncated but still accommodated the whole syllabus.

“For us Legon students, it is going to be hard on us because in the last academic year, we were the only university that had six weeks of lectures in a semester, which caused many problems, and now we may be facing that again, since there are only a few weeks left in the semester,” he explained.

UPSA

At the UPSA, the Daily Graphic team saw a number of students with schoolbags moving from lecture halls.

Some freshers said the lecturers asked them to come to class, but when they went no lecturer showed up.

“We are going to stress our brains because we need enough time to study. Due to the strike, our time has been cut short, so the lecturers are going to bombard us with everything,” one of them, Rosemond Otoo, said.

GIJ

Scenes on the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) campus were a little different, as it was virtually empty, except for a few students going about their business.

A diploma student, Evodia Tsotsoo Sowah, said if lectures resumed, she expected “a rough couple of weeks” with regard to studies.

“I don’t know if they are going to continue the academic calendar or they are going to start the semester all over. If they do continue, then students will find it difficult to study and catch up,” she explained.