Over the last three years, public universities have been beset by strikes over poor pay for staff and late payment of tuition by students.
In each case, the university staff are calling for an increment in pay, while the student not only don’t want their tuition fees increased, but are also determined to ensure that they pay their dues as late as possible.
Whenever a strike has occurred over the last three years, the universities are not allowed to find their own means of resolving the crisis.
Instead, a government official, usually the inspector general of police, Gen Edward Kale Kayihura, will hold the negotiations with the protesters on behalf of the government.
Usually, the protest will end with either the government pledging to pay the staff salaries, or asking the universities to carry on teaching, while the students make up their minds on when to pay their tuition.
This state of affairs has meant that once every semester, public universities are on strike, for one of the reasons mentioned earlier. A frustrated Prof Abdul Kasozi, former executive director of the National Council for Higher Education, has proposed that the public universities find a way of avoiding strikes.
But at the recent Vice Chancellors’ forum, held at Kampala International University, the meeting concluded the strikes could not be avoided.
And as things are going now, all public universities could be on an indefinite strike beginning this week, after government failed to honour a pledge to increase the pay of administrative staff to the same level as their academic colleagues, as promised.
This state of affairs perplexes and works in the favour of privately-owned universities, which do not suffer the same problem as their public counterparts.
When there is a need for funding, the private universities raise tuition fees, or seek grants. And they will not tolerate students delaying to pay their tuition on time. Instead, defaulters are regularly fined for every week they are late with tuition payments.
An official working with a private university recently argued that if only the government realised that strikes work against public institutions, they would stop intervening.