A couple of days back I predicted that the FUTA strike would soon be resolved by yet another increase in the salaries of university staff, with no correctives with regard to the grave problems now facing our education system. Recent reports in the papers suggest that this will indeed be the case.

…no correctives with regard to the grave problems now facing our education system.

That would be tragic, for it would provide yet another instance of state resources being squandered. Salaries should be paid in terms of work done, and sadly there is no system at present to ensure that university lecturers actually work satisfactorily for the salaries they earn. Of course it could be argued that this is true of other public servants too, but other public servants are not paid so well.

I should note that some, and indeed perhaps many, university lecturers do work hard. Amongst them, I was sure, having met him, was the FUTA Head Dr Dewasiri, who seemed to me an idealist. Certainly, in the last period for which statistics are available, he has taught for 378 hours per semester.

This is in marked contrast to several of his colleagues in the Arts Faculty in Colombo. In one Department 15 out of 17 had been assigned 90 hours or fewer per semester, ie 6 hours a week, in one semester. Some of them did more in the second semester, but never more than ten hours per week. Two, though, I should note, did ten or more in the first semester.

In the Peradeniya Arts Faculty I was sorry to note that English academics seemed the most leisured, with no one getting to over 100 hours per semester except for one person who did 150, having come in in the second semester. A more senior person, having been on sabbatical in the first semester, managed 18 hours in the second, which is just over 1 hour a week.

In the USJP Science Faculty, only 4 people out of 81 taught for more than 100 hours in even one semester. 4 persons did not have lectures assigned, while several had 15 or, in one case, just 10. In Moratuwa, by contrast, which I have long considered our best university, in the Faculty of Architecture, most had over 200 hours per term.

I could go on for hours, and perhaps I should, because it seems that I am the only person to have realised that the number of hours taught by all lecturers should be tabulated, and used as a Management tool. A year ago, at the Committee on Public Enterprises, we told the UGC to provide a schedule, which it seems had not been thought of by them previously. It took them several months to send it, which suggests that the universities had not thought of this either.

Sadly, when it reached COPE, in April, we were not told about this. Since the sub-committee responsibilities had been changed, I had not been to a meeting with the universities till today, and that was only by accident, because a Consultative Committee had been cancelled, without my being informed.

I was astonished to find that the UGC had done nothing with the schedule. They had wanted advice, it seemed, from COPE. Since they had not asked however, and since none of my colleagues seemed to have seen the schedule, it might have lain forgotten, had the Consultative Committee today not been cancelled.

I have suggested that the UGC actually call a meeting, with anyone concerned, who understands basic principles of management and accountability, to work out how to proceed, and ensure that the public get value for money, ie that university lecturers actually teach for at least a stipulated minimum number of hours per week. Whether we can ensure that this is teaching, rather than reading out notes for students to copy down, which I know some of my colleagues used to do, is another question. But at least we can make a start in ensuring awareness of what we should aim at, and the shoddy substitute for this that a significant number of those asking for higher salaries actually provide.

As a postscript, I was astounded to hear last week, with regard to another area in which I used to work, that the Director General of the Disaster Management Centre has had his salary reduced to under Rs 50,000 a month, whereas when he was recruited he was paid 150,000. Given the fantastic work he has done, and the responsibilities entrusted to him, I find it astonishing that government could countenance this, even while it contemplates paying people who teach for one hour a week over twice as much.

Island 10 October 2012 – http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=63378

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