The lecturers’ spokesman Philip Finish Apollo said the government had formed a committee headed by Presidential Advisor on Education affairs John Gai to deal with the standoff.
“Teaching of courses is going to be affected, research, supervising students, that will all be suspended,” Apollo said.
The lecturers had announced the resumption of the strike a day earlier, following failure by government to meet their demands. The talks involve representatives of the lecturers from South Sudan’s five universities and officials of the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Finance.
“In the meeting we presented our demands to members and they said, concerning the issue of salaries, this is a general issue everybody is experiencing this and the country is undergoing a difficult situation,” Apollo said, adding that there had been no major breakthrough on their case, but that a one-month salary payout had been approved so far.
The lecturers’ demands include medical allowances and air tickets for one year, benefits which would cost over 27 million South Sudanese Pounds. They are also demanding overdue salaries for the past three months and pay increases.
Taking part in the industrial action are lecturers and non-teaching staff from all five public universities; Juba, Wau, Rumbek, Upper Nile and the Dr. John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology.
Apollo said Peter Adwok Nyaba, the Minister of Higher Education gave assurances to follow up the issue with the Ministry of Finance. He said Higher Education Ministry officials have renewed efforts working on the documents detailing lecturers’ demands.
It is not clear how many lecturers are involved in the strike but Apollo said around 400 staff were striking at Juba University alone.
Despite the payment of one-month salary, in contrast to the three-month salary demanded by the lecturers, Apollo stressed they will only call off the strike if the government fulfils their demands.
“I am sending the message to my colleagues to be patient, to the students to be patient, we sympathise with them and understand their situation,” Apollo said.
The lecturers first announced their intended strike on May 24, giving the government 24 hours to address the issue.
Professor Bol Deng, the Undersecretary at the Ministry of Higher Education said “the Ministry of Finance has only one answer, is to pay the lecturers. The ministry may not be able to afford to pay all the claims but when they sit down together they may reach a solution.”
Sworo Elly Martin, a first year student at the department of rural development at the University of Juba, urged the government to attend to the problems of the lecturers. “Education is key in our lives. When we are not educated it means there is no prosperity in our nation. If they are not paid it will be difficult for them to come and give lectures,” he said.
Nyadah Paul finished her studies at the college of law at the University of Juba and graduated on May 26. She is not happy with the strike, complaining the decision is to the detriment of students. “It is not a good time for them to strike,” she said. “Most people will lose hope in education, so I don’t think it is a good step for lecturers to strike.”
Apollo stressed that they only decided to halt teaching once the lecturers had exhausted all diplomatic efforts to address the problem. He warned that the strike would continue until their message was heard.
And this is not the first strike to beset students at public universities: It follows on the heels of several similar strikes by the lecturers regarding pay since South Sudan became independent almost five years ago.
Most students are worried they may not be able to complete their studies in time. Emmanuel William, a first year student in the College of Humanities at the University of Juba, says most students feel frustrated as the strike is dragging on. “Now people are discouraged because there is no lecture what will you do?” he wonders.
Emmanuel says when the strike started they hadn’t even completed the required courses and were about to sit for the end of year exams. His main worry is that the lecturers did not say when the strike will end. “We don’t know what to do because they said this strike is open, it has no deadline. It means if the salary is not given to them it may go up to next year.”
Lino Moses, a first year student of law shares the same sentiments. “It is affecting us because by this time we were almost going to have one week reading-studying but now is going to be pushed ahead.”
In a letter addressed to the striking lecturers, the Minister of Higher Education Minister Adwok Nyaba instructed lecturers to report back to duty or “face disciplinary measures”. He accused the university staff of being inconsiderate: “What we are saying is that the delay is because of the current economic situation in the country, once there is money they will be paid”, he told The Niles.
Over the years, strikes over unpaid salaries and allowances have paralysed studies at public universities in South Sudan. Students spend many years to complete their studies. Some courses that normally take four years end up taking double the time or even more.