Pay scale, teachers and the dream of becoming a middle income country
American management guru Peter Drucker in his book The Age of Discontinuity wrote: whether a country is developed or underdeveloped can be assessed by looking at the salary structure of university teachers. In a developed country university teachers make a decent living while in an underdeveloped country they toil in hardship.
On this count Bangladesh is an underdeveloped country. However, the country made significant economic progress during the last few years. Per capita income rose to $1314 in 2015 from $957 in 2010. The ruling government is committed to transforming Bangladesh into a middle income country by 2021. It has also been implementing projects to transform Bangladesh into an information society called digital Bangladesh. To be a sustainable middle income country and an information society, academic institutions should be the catalyst of change through innovations. Did the government take necessary steps to prepare the academic institutions to play their due roles in the socio-economic transformation?
The ruling government has done several commendable tasks in the education sector. First, it has nationalised the jobs of thousands of primary school teachers by ensuring job security and payment of regular salaries.
Second, it successfully distributed textbooks to more than 30 million school children at the beginning of the school year for free of costs for the last several years.
Finally, it has propelled the growth of literacy rate by facilitating the creation of new academic institutions and luring students to classrooms by giving stipends and other incentives.
However, the paramount challenge which has been lurking in the shadows is to raise the standard of education.
Teachers are the key force in addressing this challenge. But they remain as one of the most condemned groups in society. School and college teachers are condemned for working as private tutors for extra money without imparting quality lessons at classrooms. Teachers serving at public universities are condemned for doing part-time jobs at private universities and for not conducting enough research. Why do teachers do these condemnable acts? There are legitimate reasons for that. Low wages of teachers compel them to work as private tutors or undertake part-time jobs to meet family needs. The universities hardly have any funds available for supporting research.
For teachers to devote to study and research, the state needs to look after their financial need. The ruling Awami League rightly understood this issue and made a promise in its election manifesto in 2008 that if it were elected to form the government it would introduce a separate pay scale for teachers. The party formed the government and finished the five-year term without keeping this promise. It has started another five-year term. In this tenure, the Awami League government has expressed intension to provide a pay raise to all employees of the state-owned enterprises and created a pay commission with Dr. Farashuddin as its head to propose a pay raise.
The Farashuddin Commission submitted its proposal for a pay raise in December 2014. A committee of the senior bureaucrats has revised the proposal.
Instead of suggesting measures to meet the legitimate need of the teachers, the pay commission proposal undermined university teachers. The Farashuddin Commission suggested not creating any separate pay scale for university teachers unless the universities became financially self-reliant. The committee of the bureaucrats in their revisions created two special tiers in the pay scale outside the regular grades of salaries: one for senior secretaries and one for the secretaries holding administrative positions in the bureaucracy. It also recommended abolishing the provisions of the selection grade. With the creation of two super grades and elimination of the selection grade, university professors will draw salaries in the scale equivalent to a joint secretary while in the recent past the selection grade professors at the universities has drawn salaries in the scale equivalent to a senior secretary. The unwarranted suggestion for public universities to become financially self-reliant to have a separate pay scale begs many questions to be asked.
Are the public universities business enterprises that they should take initiatives to become financially self-reliant? The way to become financially self-reliant for public universities is to raise tuition fees for students. If the public universities go for this, many meritorious students will not be able to afford university education.
Moreover, if the universities are financially self-reliant why should they bother about the pay scale declared by the government? Did the commission harbour an intention to privatise higher education in the country? How come bureaucrats added two additional tiers to the pay scale for themselves? Is the bureaucracy financially self-reliant to have separate grades for its top bosses?
Instead of making efforts to fulfil one of the key election promises of the ruling party that is creating a separate pay scale to pave the way for ensuring an attractive payment system for teachers, the government-sponsored pay commission and the review committee of the bureaucrats made recommendations downgrading university teachers. Many university teachers see it as a ploy to set them up against the government.
Compared to their colleagues in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, university teachers in Bangladesh draw lower salaries. In India, a professor at a university draws a minimum salary of 135,000.00 Indian rupees while the cabinet secretary draws 90 thousand rupees. The minimum salary of a professor at a university in Pakistan is 234,000.00 Pakistani rupees while the maximum is 405,600.00 rupees. In Sri Lanka, the minimum salary of a professor is around 135,000.00 Sri Lankan Rupees. In Bangladesh, the minimum salary of a professor at a university is around 40 thousand taka. In India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka a university teacher receives a research allowance equivalent to 35-50% of their basic salary while in Bangladesh there is no such allowance in the pay scale. The University of Dhaka provides TK 750.00 per month as research allowance to a teacher. Should we be surprised if university teachers in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka do well than their Bangladeshi counterparts in terms of research and publications?
If the government wants university teachers to contribute through research and innovations, it has to introduce a separate pay scale for them which will include a decent research allowance. However, this pay scale may have different tiers to accommodate school and college teachers.
Bangladesh cannot make a sustainable socio-economic progress without having university teachers concentrating on research and innovations.