Thursday, September 6, 2012

University dons: Emoluments and benefits


A large number of statements have been made and a great deal of information has been in the public domain recently re the adequacy or otherwise of the emoluments and other benefits enjoyed by University academic staff. FUTA and several others have pointed out that such emoluments are essential in order to attract persons with very high and mandatory PG qualifications to become Senior Lecturers and thereby reduce the current shortage of adequately qualified academics necessary for the large number of universities that exist today. Whatever, those benefits were or are, I am an Emeritus Professor of Chemistry who was patriotic enough to serve the University system in Sri Lanka for 43 years since graduation without ever even applying for any other job within or outside Sri Lanka, I therefore consider it my paramount duty and obligation to point out at least one very important and significant fact that, to my knowledge, has so far not been spotlighted by any party during the current trade union action of FUTA. I am bringing this to the notice of the Sri Lankan public since it is a very relevant fact which should not be overlooked and I am now able to point it out publicly since I will not benefit in any way by the current action as I retired 3 years ago at the mandatory age of retirement of 65 years.

We are all aware that a very large number of state officials and officers both in the public service as well as semi-government institutions (such as Corporations, Institutes, Authorities etc) have had, for many years , the government approved privilege of having an official vehicle permanently allotted to them personally with official drivers – a vehicle that is permitted to be used not only for official travel but also for a considerable amount of private /personal travel. The huge number of persons entitled to this benefit now includes not only Heads of Departments (including the overall Head who used to be referred to as the Director) but a whole array of others including Additional Secretaries of Ministries, Judges at various levels and in addition to the Directors General and Additional Director General of such institutions, a number of persons holding posts designated as Directors of sub-departments. To cite another example, in the Attorney General’s department, this includes a large numbers of Deputy Solicitors General, I wish to make it quite clear that I am not objecting to this practice since it is done with full government approval perhaps with the needs of such departments and institutions in mind and/or perhaps at the request of such bodies and relevant trade unions. The cost of this benefit can be easily assessed at a minimum monthly average lying between Rs 85,000 to Rs 140,000 per officer since it comprises the investment of an individual vehicle (equivalent monthly interest cost of Rs 35-55,000), driver’s salary (with allowances) apart from overtime of say another Rs 25,000 to 35,000 and fuel costs (Rs. 20- 60,000). This, no doubt, can very easily be seen to comprise an amount that is much more than the monthly salary of most if not all such officers.

On the other hand, in the University system only the Vice-Chancellor is entitled to this privilege for many years and no other academic , whether he be a Senior Professor or otherwise, can even dream of such a benefit unless he is close to the political high-ups and becomes a Vice-Chancellor! Therefore, it appears to be very unfair, if not cruel, to say that a University Professor gets a salary more than the Chief Justice. It is very regrettable that even the Minister of Higher Education, (who told Parliament two years ago that a professor should be paid Rs 200,000 per month) made such a statement recently and thereby tried to show that at present the University Professor gets a higher income than the Chief Justice. Leave alone the Chief Justice, the whole array of government officials of much lower status than the Chief Justice, whether in the judicial sphere or otherwise, get much more than a Professor’s income, at least indirectly through the personal vehicle allotted to him! Leave alone a vehicle for personal use, a university academic very often is unable to obtain even the very paltry vehicle loan that is permissible under UGC circulars! University academics also do not get housing or other benefits, which public servants quite often obtain.

I hope I have been able to correct grossly misleading statements made by politicians who should be more responsible to realise what they are talking about. It is very important that politicians as well as the public should realise that the Universities are having a huge recruitment and retention problem at the senior lecturer level and above and if immediate steps are not taken to redress this situation we will arrive at a state from which the tertiary educational sector will never ever be able to recover from.

Emeritus Prof. J N Oleap Fernando,

Emeritus Professor of Chemistry

The Open University of Sri Lanka

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