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Private universities start suspending staff, cutting salaries

Barely a month after the country went into lockdown to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, some private-sector universities in Rwanda, citing a lack of funds, have suspended academic and administrative staff and reduced the salaries of others.

At the University of Technology and Arts of Byumba (UTAB) located in Gicumbi district in the Northern Province, about 40 staff members were suspended and 60 had their salaries cut by half.

Those who will be getting half are those currently helping to ensure that online learning materials are uploaded and that learners can access online tuition, according to the university management.

The situation may get worse in the months to come.

Shock

University World News spoke to several teaching and administration staff from different universities who expressed shock that the suspensions have been effected before their employers know how long the lockdown will last.

“I was suspended and informed that I should report back when things come back to normal and face-to-face classes resume,” said one staff member from UTAB who asked for anonymity.

“My family is going to suffer because I am the only breadwinner,” he added.

At the University of Kigali, also a private institution, the salaries of both teaching and administrative staff (a total of 200 people) were reduced and staff received 70% of their salary for March.

“Our salaries for March were cut and we only got 70%. The university [management] said they don’t have money to pay us the full salary and we have no hope that we will be paid for April and other months to come if the lockdown is extended again,” said one of the lecturers.

“We are also worried that many will not be paid for the coming months as not all of us will be working online. Besides, the administration staff have nothing to do as we are all off. Those who will be offering courses online or helping may also have their salaries cut again to 50%,” the source said.

In partnership with telecommunication companies, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of ICT and Innovation, six universities in Rwanda can now access online platforms, which are zero-rated to help them keep running despite the lockdown.

At the University of Gitwe, a staff member told University World News that no suspensions had been announced thus far, but staff had not received their March salaries “and there are no signs that we are getting it soon”.

Unpaid tuition fees

According to Dr Ndahayo Fidele, vice-chancellor of UTAB, the university, like other private institutions, depends on tuition fees and the lockdown was imposed before many students had paid.

“We looked at the financial situation and realised we could not manage the situation. We therefore suspended some lecturers and administrative staff to manage that situation after consultation with the Ministry of Education and looking at the legal implications as per the labour law,” Ndahayo said.

He confirmed that those suspended will not receive salaries, while those who will be supporting online learning will receive 50% of their salary until things normalise.

Rwandan labour law stipulates that employers can suspend employees in the event of a technical problem, but the suspension should not exceed 90 working days.

Ndahayo said the university senate would adjust their response should the lockdown last longer than the period stipulated by the law.

Flavia Salafina, communications, information and education specialist at the Ministry of Education, said private universities have their own ways to manage their institutions and the ministry should not interfere unless it directly affects students.

“Private universities normally sign contracts with staff and have the right to suspend them as long as they respect what is in the labour law; the ministry can intervene only if the suspension contravenes students’ studies and now universities are closed,” she said in a short phone interview.

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