Blooming or Grappling? A comment on MOE's response!
By Addis M.
WIC Sep 16, 2000
I really appreciate the prompt response from the ministry of education concerning our comments and I do hope that this sprit of positive dialogue and constructive criticism proliferate in the future. Positive dialogue is one thing that we are lacking and we have to do a lot to spawn (revive) such culture in our society. This requires change of attitude from both parties- those who are leading the system and the rest of us out there. A lot has to be done in this regard to bridge the sharp schism that separates these two groups so that the dialogue strikes the "we" tune rather than "they" and "us".
For now, despite its content, it is gratifying to know that the MOE is listening and took the time and effort to respond back! Well done! Let's keep it that way, because all of us have the good of the country at the heart.
Having said that, though there seems to be an appreciation of some of the problems, the open response from the ministry is extremely defensive, stereotypical and attempts to refute even the naked facts. I am not here to trade blames and I will
simply pass "the blooming" that the statement was trying so desperately to convince us, because the word to use is grappling. Rather, I'd like to address the challenge the response put forward and throw some few points on the way forward.
I found the statement " It is worth mentioning that the comparison that Addis M used is unrealistic, in that it tried to stipulate that salaries of academic staff in Ethiopia shall be close to international or regional standards" very strange and bizarre. Because, my comment clearly spelt out that the question is not salary akin the international or regional pay but rather something close to the domestic rate. The following was what I have said in my previous comment and I was neither riding a high horse nor on illusion.
"…Anyone … returning to the country knows and accepts the fact that the country is not going to pay him/her a salary even distantly close to let alone international but also regional standards…I know there is something called comparative cost of living, and this nominal figure [the comparison] has to be seen within that context…. So the question is not a salary by the international standard but something even close to what the local business pay for comparable skills".
The MOE challenges me by stating
" do we really know the economic and living conditions in our country when we try to compare the MBA international salary with that paid in Ethiopia, or even the salary paid by private/business and non-governmental organizations within Ethiopia with that of the public sector"
For the benefit of the general public, I would like to stand up to the above challenge based on facts on which the ministry is sleeping. All the market figures (based on the scale in 1999) are taken from a sample of the major public corporations (the likes of commercial bank, insurance, Tele, EPC, Airlines, etc), and authorities (like road and water, rail transport, etc) and don't reflect the private sector which if included will definitely push the market average up and paint a different picture. The strange thing is also the disparity in basic salary on top of additional benefits such as housing between members of the Civil Service College (CSC or "Yekatit 66" as some would like to address it) and the other staff of higher education. I found that very hard to comprehend and I hope the MOE will enlighten us.
Here are the facts
1. The current higher education salary scale pays a BA(B Sc)+ 5 years of experience ( Assistant lecturer) 980 birr while the market average is 1300 with a high of 1600. CSC pays for the same skill 1208 birr.
2. While the average market value of MSC(MA)+0 (lecturer) is close to 1900 with a high of 2900 birr, that skill worth only 1290 birr in the higher education but 1505 birr in CSC. Eight years experience makes a lecturer (MSc+8) earn a meager 1620 birr, the market average is around 2800 birr with a high of 3800. A CSC staffs get 1890 birr.
3. An Assitant Professor (Ph D +0) gets 1620 in the higher education ( but 1890 in CSC) while its equivalent skill grabs 2400 on the average and a max of 2700. 8 years experience on top of Ph D will make the staff get only 2000 birr (but 2333 in CSC) while the figure is 3200 and 4300 for a market average and maximum respectively.
4. While the step salary increment of the academic staff on the average is less than 2% per year with actual values ranging from 25 to 68 birr, the average annual salary increment of the public corporations approximate 8% with a minimum value of 60 and a high of 240 birr.
So what is the ministry going to say about all these? Do we really understand our competitors? For example, in the AAU only there are close to 179 vacant academic posts and it is becoming absolutely impossible to run some undergraduate programs. This was reflected in the 1999's graduation ceremony speech of the University's president. And here we are talking about blooming and refuses to revise the scale even to consider the rise in the cost of living and inflation.
Regarding expatriate treatment, it is futile to justify this special treatment while not doing the same for our own people. It doesn't make any sense. A colleague of mine after spending close to 10 years abroad came back and joins the University. While he was suffering in search of a house and finishing his savings in hotels, Indian expatriates with lower training than my colleague came and were immediately entitled for a decent place with all the benefits. Now if someone is trying to justify this, I think it is tantamount to adding insult on to injury. Has it occurred to our leaders that if they do that much to our own people, we can at least manage to slow down the fleeing from higher education which now stands at an alarming annual rate of
20% (staff turnover)?. Or is the ministry telling us that my colleague, who eventually left both the system and the country and I have to be Indian to get those benefits?
Some considerations on the way forward!
1. I think we have to take wisdom from "if there is a will, there is a means" quip in dealing with the salary issue and consider seriously our stubbornness!
2. Allow students studying abroad to import all their items free of any custom duty upon their return (only once) so long as the items are for personal use
3. Give due consideration to the housing problem of academic staff. If the government can give free housing for Indians, members of the parliament, bureau heads, various other officials, it can at least give staff priority to rent the houses that it is administering because it is the country's future that is at stake here.
4. A Knowledge poor country shouldn't tax knowledge. Remove all sorts of import duties and taxes on books and other items (such as computers) destined for schools, colleges and varsities. The custom system and its bureaucracy have frustrated many citizens who spend their time and resources on the book to Ethiopia drive. Strangely, getting the books from Bole to Sidist Killo has repeatedly turned out to be more demanding and challenging than collecting the books and transporting them to
5. Ethiopia has a rich intellectual Diaspora. This so far untapped resource can be used to make significant strides in all aspects. With the windows of opportunities that ICTs have opened for us, if there is a will and determination, it is possible to gain from the drain. This requires commitment from both sides but somebody has to start rolling the ball and I think due to its position the MOE should take the first few steps. Let's show the commitment and hospitality we are showing to attract Indians, to attract our own people!
6.Invest, Invest and Invest! For a country whose recent military spending was as high as 1 million USD a day, it is difficult to gloat over a 600 million birr investment over a period of five years on something which is far more important than the war, at least in my view. Let's be real and face the facts. In fact this recent experience is another proof that our problem has to do more on setting our priorities than on the lack of resources. Ms Minister, just be brave and ask your bosses to give you a month of the military spending. Now…that will take us somewhere!