Tough talk on academic malpractices as USL staff debate better pay and conditions of service progresses

 

The core functions of higher education institutions include education, research, publications and service to society. Quality teaching requires the use of pedagogical techniques to produce learning outcomes for students. These ideals cannot be attained when university staff especially work under very poor conditions with very low pay. For over a month now, the University of Sierra Leone (USL) and other public universities have been on an industrial strike action with academic activities shut down. The need for a review of university conditions of service has drawn support from students, the labour congress and other stakeholders.

Last week, a special committee on the framework for the conditions of service for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) came up with the following proposals aimed at meeting lecturers’ demand:

  1. 25% salary adjustment for public universities effective January 1st, 2021
  2. 10% salary adjustment for all polytechnics effective January 1st, 2021
  3. All institutions benefit from the 25% salary increase across the board.
  4. In case the WCC is not in effect by January 2022, a 25% increase be made for all tertiary institutions.
  5. Outstanding payments of 3rd and 4th -quarter allocations for 2020 for all tertiary institutions.
  6. Regularize outstanding payment of grants-in-aid dating back to 2014
  7. Staff promoted during the review period be placed on their correct scales.
  8. The conditions of service should be comprehensively reviewed.
  9. To waive taxation on leave allowances

The committee comprised representatives of the Minister of State in the Office of the Vice President, the Ministry of Finance, the Minister of Labour, the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education, Tertiary Education Commission, University Courts and Polytech Councils, the Chairman of the Conference of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, Civil Society Organizations and the Presidents of Academic Staff Associations of Public HEIs. It is hoped that the bold step by the government will satisfy lecturers to call off the strike to pave the way for the 2021 academic year to commence while further negotiation continues.

In connection with these discussions for better conditions of service for university staff, the Director of Strategic Planning and Quality Assurance at the University of Sierra Leone, Mr. David Gbao sees an opportunity to have a perspective on good quality education in the area of accountability on the part of lecturers. The Dean of Arts Faculty, Prof Abdul Kargbo also points out that lecturers can have a hundred percent increment but there is need for improved libraries, IT Laboratories, Science Laboratories and Engineering workshops with funded projects directed to institutions.  But quality education also requires high levels of integrity.

Prof Allyson Sesay, a seasoned academic with decades of experience makes the point that “the critical aspect of responsibility as lecturers is to provide quality customer service to our students, which is the central pivot around which all talk about salary and Conditions of service should revolve”. The Registrar of USL, Mrs Olive Barrie states that to be a sound lecturer, one firstly has to be grounded in one’s subject area, and then pedagogical training will assist one to know how to transmit that knowledge to learners. But integrity is a moral high ground which binds everything together for the good of all.

While academic malpractice in higher education is not a new phenomenon, its unprecedented dimensions in schools, colleges and universities in Sierra Leone requires a zero tolerance prevention. It is for this reason that the Vice Chancellor and Principal of USL, Prof Foday Sahr in 2018 expanded the role of the Planning Directorate to include Quality assurance. The Directorate ensures accountability for the use of university resources, contributes to the promotion of high quality and standards in teaching and learning, provides students, employers and other stakeholders with reliable and consistent information about quality and identify where quality or standards are unsatisfactory so that rapid action is taken to improve the situation.

The QA Director has made the clamp-down on academic malpractice at USL a top priority for the upcoming academic year and has vowed to follow up on every lead on malpractices, investigate and ensure prosecution of anybody found wanting.