The University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) on Tuesday gave the government an eight-day ultimatum to address their Book and Research Allowance (BRA) or embark on a nationwide industrial action.
“Regrettably, if by April 15, the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) or the appropriate authority has not initiated the process for payment of the book and research allowance for the 2013/2014 academic year, UTAG will be compelled to withdraw its services,” Dr Samuel Ofori Bekoe, UTAG National President stated in Accra.
Dr Bekoe, who was addressing a press conference to highlight the outstanding issues, said early this year, the association issued a number of press releases outlining its stance on Government’s intention to abolish the allowances paid to academic senior members of public universities and instead replaced it with a National Research Fund (NRF).
“We also used the press releases to inform government and the general public on the justification for the retention of the BRA and clarify any misconceptions that UTAG was against the proposed NRF,” he said.
He noted that, they used those occasions to express their disenchantment with non-conventional approach employed by some government functionaries, on various platforms, to announce the intention of government to abolish the BRA without any consultations whatsoever with UTAG.
“Indeed UTAG considers the approach by government as nothing other than an affront to the sensibilities of its members, given the fact that UTAG is the major beneficiary of existing BRA,” he said.
Dr Bekoe however observed that these lapses notwithstanding, UTAG had continuously restrained itself from doing anything to stroke up the fire that is being set by government.
He stressed that UTAG still stood by their conviction and strongly believed that the proposed NRF and the BRA could co-exist.
He explained: “Since the BRA are tied to the university lecturer’s condition of service, and was introduced as a result of a collective decision taken by both government and UTAG, its abolition cannot be a unilateral decision, as such an action would have implications for the overall conditions of service of the university lecturer.”
He said the BRA guaranteed minimum and immediate research support across board for all lecturers and research fellows.
Early Career lecturers and researchers in the public universities take advantage of the BRA to start their professional development, in terms of the conduct of research, buying of books, subscribing to academic journals and attending conferences.
“The abolition of the book and research allowance will hurt the career development of such category of academics,” he added.
Dr Bekoe said the BRA that were introduced in the 1995/96 academic year, was even more relevant today than at any other time in the past; owing to large student numbers, resulting from increasing enrolment at the public universities, which had increased the research and teaching burden of the lecturer enormously.
He explained that if government went ahead with the proposed abolition of the BRA, it would have grave implications for the future of public universities in Ghana.
“UTAG’s expectation has been that the process for the payment of the BRA would commence to ensure that academic work progressed without any disruption, adding that, “However, government by all intents and purposes through acts of omission and commission has shown the resolve to implement the decision to scrap the BRA and replace them with the NRF”, he said.
Dr Bekoe noted that, the casual manner in which the Minister of Education met with the UTAG leadership on the issue on 27th February, 2014 was “a vivid portrayal of the lack of seriousness and importance the ministry attaches to the resolution of the problem.”
“In addition, our official request to the NCTE to initiate process for the payment of this academic year’s BRA by 31st March, 2014 appears to have been ignored,” he added.