Open Letter to President Akufo-Addo: A GH¢3,600 monthly salary is an insult to lecturers

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Dear Nana,

This is a personal appeal—an appeal motivated by my own observation of the deplorable conditions of service of lecturers at our institutions of higher learning. You promised so much for our educational sector, so let it not be documented that you failed lecturers. For the past three months, I have worked as a Visiting Professor at the University of Ghana, and I have been shocked by the shameful conditions of service of the intellectual class who train our critical human resource: economists, medical doctors, journalists, politicians, lawyers, engineers, teachers, software developers, etc.

Admittedly, academia is not a particularly attractive career option. The relatively low salaries, excessive faculty workload, and lack of or poor resources required for teaching and research are some of the most obvious factors that drive people away from the profession. So, in some ways, I understand your recent comment that teachers cannot be millionaires. Many of the professors that I know, who appear to be living comfortably are into “gala”—i.e., side jobs. It is true that sacrifice is at the core of the teaching profession, but shouldn’t it be the case for all of public service? Politicians claim to be engaged in service, but they are paid relatively well, right? Why can’t lecturers earn a decent salary?

I should note that your assessment of the economic outlook of teaching is only peculiar to Ghana. Ghanaian lecturers are among the most poorly paid in Africa, and certainly globally. Numbers from countries such as South Africa, Togo, and Nigeria (among others) lay bare the progressive efforts governments in some of these African countries are making to support and keep their intellectual class in the classroom—unfortunately, we have lagged behind. I truly believe that our inertia in matters relating to the conditions of service of lecturers is an indictment against our society’s—and certainly government’s—lack of respect for academe and knowledge production. Indeed, countries such as Luxemburg, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and the United States have excellent models that we can adapt to close the current economic gap between lecturers and those in other professions.  

To be clear, the academic and economic quality of life of lectures in Ghana is lamentable. At present, the monthly salary of many entry-level lecturers with a PhD is about 3,600 GHS (about $600). An advancement in years or rank pushes them to about 5,000 GHS, sometimes even with an administrative role. What an insult! How does any serious country, which considers higher education a driver of knowledge, innovation, and creativity, treat its knowledge drivers so poorly? When compared to those in other professions with no PhDs, or who do not interface with critical human resource, lecturers appear very low in the pecking order of social and economic conditions. How do we expect to drive excellence and innovation if lecturers are so poorly motivated?

Globally, higher education institutions have increasingly become vital in creating knowledge, contributing to civic and community engagement, equipping graduates to gain viable employment, partnering with industry to promote research and innovation, promoting critical thinking, and socializing society. Lecturers are the primary factors in promoting and actualizing these ideals; lecturers are the key drivers of social and economic transformation. Administrators do not create and implement innovative curricula; lecturers do, because they are at the core of what happens in academe. A highly motivated professoriate is integral to achieving all these goals. Nana, current happenings suggest that we are doing everything possible to drive away our knowledge producers.

Nana, as I write this letter to you, university lecturers have been on strike since August 2, 2021, over the same issue of poor salary structure and miserable conditions of service. Sometime in 2012, the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) reached an agreement with government in which they were promised an entry-level lecturer’s salary of more than $2,000 per month. Unfortunately, this offer to restore some decency to academe has been scorned. Lecturers have become so low in the social and economic pecking order that government no longer listens to them.

Nana, becoming a lecturer in Ghana should not equate to living a life of penury. The position of lecturer should be accorded some respect, fairness, and prestige. Lecturers are leaving for other professions in large numbers; those who stay are engaged in “gala” to have some semblance of comfort. Even prior to the August 2 strike action, many faculty offices were deserted because instead of staying in their offices to meet with students, lecturers were elsewhere taking on other jobs. This suggests that contact hours between students and lecturers will be in decline, and time spent preparing for teaching will be negatively impacted. When motivation is low, quality of teaching and research will suffer. Honestly, an academic with a PhD should be earning more than the equivalent of $2,000 per month that UTAG is asking for but given our poor history of how we have treated our academics, this figure may be a reasonable start.

The current issue confronting lecturers may be a function of the unfairness associated with our public salary structure, itself a consequence of the 2010 Single Spine Salary Structure—but that’s an issue for another letter. A fair salary structure for faculty in our institutions of higher learning is critical to fostering and maintaining excellence. Sadly, we have failed our intellectual class, and we seem to be sending the wrong message that a career in academe is not worth the effort.

Nana, please lead on this issue, and restore some decency to the lives of those in academe.

By Godwin Agboka

Godwin Agboka is professor of technical and professional communication at the University of Houston-Downtown and visiting professor at the University of Ghana