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Ghana: University strike cripples study

February 9, 2022

The ongoing lecturers' strike has entered its fifth week and threatens to shut down public universities. As a result, thousands of local and international students have been left stranded.

An empty lecture hall.
College students in Ghana have missed out on classes for nearly five weeks nowImage: Maxwell Suuk/DW

Public universities in Ghana are on the verge of a shutdown in the coming weeks unless lecturers currently on strike for over four weeks return to work.

The lecturers, who are part of the national umbrella body called the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG), downed their chalks on January 10, 2022, over poor working conditions.

The lecturers' union said the government had refused to implement a pay policy that pegs their basic salary and market premium at $2,084 (€1,824). A market premium payment is a salary bonus for a specific group of workers whose posts have been identified as "hard to fill."

This payment aims to prevent workers like university lecturers from abandoning their jobs for other sectors or even traveling abroad to teach elsewhere.

UTAG's leadership said that since December 2021, when its members migrated to Ghana's Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS), their basic premiums have decreased to $997.

Ghana's University of Development Studies.
There are fears that a prolonged lecturers' strike in Ghana could lead to campus shutdownsImage: Maxwell Suuk/DW

Pushing for redress

One of the association's leaders, Dr. Felix Longi Yakubu Tonsuglo, told DW that the strike had become necessary to force the government to address what he called very poor  working conditions.  

"Our salaries have eroded. From 2013, we had an interim market premium of 114% of our basic (salary), which gave us a cedi equivalent of $2,084. But, as we speak now, that value has eroded to 52%," Tonsuglo said. "Right now, what a lecturer takes [home] is just a cedi equivalent of $900." 

Besides an increase in their salaries, the lecturers are also demanding a raise in book and research allowances. 

The ongoing strike could soon cross the 31-day mark, requiring managers to shut down their universities. But so far, there isn't any sign of a resolution.

When the lecturers started their strike, the country's National Labour Commission swiftly sued them, saying they could not continue industrial action while negotiating with the government, which is their employer. But the lecturers have rejected calls to end their strike. On February 4, a court asked the warring parties to resolve the impasse out of court.

Ghana's education minister, Yaw Osei Adutwum, told reporters that crucial decisions had been made since the court order. "As minister of education, I am a chief advocate and will do everything possible to ensure that this strike ends and their [lecturers'] demands are also considered. Further dialogue happens at the end of the strike," Adutwum said.

Vice-Chancellors Ghana — the umbrella body of managers of public universities — has said it hopes the lecturers and the government will soon reach an agreement to prevent the total closure of universities.

 Dr. Felix Longi Yakubu Tonsuglo.
Dr. Felix Longi Yakubu, a lecturers' association leader, says the profession is underpaidImage: Maxwell Suuk/DW

Empty lecture halls

"We are doing everything possible to ensure our lecturers get back to the lecture halls," Professor Okoe Amartey told reporters in Ghana's capital, Accra.

"We have been talking to our lecturers on the various campuses. We are coming to engage them further. We are appealing to them to return to the lecture halls while negotiation continues," Amartey said.

The government has for weeks failed to get the lecturers back to the classroom. However, in the face of the real prospect of all public colleges being locked down, Adutwum told journalists that his ministry was working hard to get the tutors back to work.

"Our students are waiting, and we will do everything possible to make sure that our lecturers go back to the classroom," the minister said.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo with mask
President Nana Akufo-Addo's government says it is working hard to end the lecturers' strikeImage: Francis Kokoroko/REUTERS

Growing students' frustration

While the government hopes the lecturers will call off their strike sooner than later, the impact on students is becoming severe. Thousands of local and international students have been stranded for weeks.

One international student from Cuba studying medicine at the University of Development Studies in northern Ghana told DW that the strike had affected her finances and frustrated her studies.

"You know we have a budget. Our parents send us money for one month, and when you are not going to school, it is like you are wasting the money," the 20-year-old student, who chose to remain anonymous, said. 

 "It is my first time seeing something like this. People are going on strike because of the money. It is my first time. It is new to me. In my country, we don't have this," she said.

But local students, who are more used to such strikes, are also stranded and hoping for a quick resolution.

Strikes are nothing new in Ghanaian public universities. The same Ghanaian lecturers went on strike last year for similar reasons. They called it off days later after a series of negotiations with the government, 

In search of a lasting solution

"We are calling on our lecturers, on the government and all stakeholders to come together and make sure our lecturers return to the classroom," Emmanuel Boakye Yiadom, president of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS), told journalists.

"But before they return, they should be a lasting solution where the lecturers may not see the need or the sense of returning to the strike again," Yiadom added.

At least 15 public universities are currently affected by the ongoing strike by the lecturers.

It is not only in Ghana that lecturers are agitating for better working conditions. In Nigeria, the Academic Staff Union of Universities has also raised issues over poor working conditions. The university lecturers have threatened to embark on a nationwide strike to fight for their demands.

Should this threat be carried out in Nigeria, it will be the second major strike in two years after the previous one lasted for nine months, leading to the loss of almost one full academic year.

Getting kids back to school

Maxwell Suuk in Ghana contributed to this article.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu