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Fixing UTech | UTech bleeding - Academic staff leaving in droves because of low wages and hostile work environment

Published:Tuesday | November 1, 2016 | 11:00 AMAndre Poyser

The inability of the University of Technology (UTech) to compensate its academic staff competitively has resulted in a mass migration of some of its most highly qualified instructors.

Since January, one department with a normal complement of 35 has seen some 13 resignations. Another academic unit lost seven lecturers, five of whom had PhDs, within the space of a year.

The University of Technology Academic Staff Union (UTASU) has said the failure of the university's management to establish transparency and fairness in the promotional process has hastened the departure of many lecturers who have upgraded their qualifications.

According to UTASU, many lecturers, on completing the required PhD, returned to work without an offer of promotion and measly increment with a $6,000 cap.

This, the unions say, is not an attractive return on the investment undertaken to earn a terminal degree, and invariably these people leave the university for better opportunities.

"UTASU has indicated that the low wages offered to lecturers, the poor working conditions, and the generally hostile environment continues to make it difficult for lecturers to remain employed to UTech, Jamaica. UTASU has included various items in the wage and working conditions claim, which, if agreed, would create a more attractive workspace for lecturers," the union said in response to questions from The Gleaner.

The union has also noted that the glaring disparity between what advanced qualifications attract in the corporate and professional work environment vs earnings in academia at UTech is made only worse by the fact that academic salaries have been allowed to fall below market rates, while salaries of those in administration at the university have been kept competitive.

 

PHD MISCONCEPTION

 

With regard to concerns about the number of academic staff who have earned a terminal degree, the union says the figure is much higher than has been reported.

"With a combined figure of approximately 50 per cent of the academic staff (complement of 512) currently holders of PhDs or in various stages of completion of PhD studies, the academic staff is active in the pursuit of terminal degrees," the union added.

The union further argued that it was a misconception that all university academic staff must have PhDs, noting that "many of the disciplines offered at UTech do not have PhD as the capstone qualification but have professional equivalencies, and so the master chefs, the architects, the lawyers, the pharmacists, the accountants, the quantity surveyors, etc, would not be counted among this number".

UTASU also said that the workload that academic staff have to carry makes it difficult for them to complete their PhDs.

"UTASU has sought, without success, to convince the management of the university that the current workload of lecturers militates against pursuit of the terminal degree. The required teaching hours at UTech are currently some 25-30 per cent higher than required at the universities generally, and our closest neighbour specifically," the union said, referring to the University of the West Indies.

andre.poyser@gleanerjm.com