Many lecturers work extra hours to supplement their meagre salaries
The sense of unease was palpable when some 200 employees from different state-supervised universities across the country met to air their problems at Chulalongkorn University last week.
Many of these people had previously been told by their superiors to not congregate and “make a noise” because they risked defaming their own institutions. However, those who met last Saturday had valid grievances, with many saying that their meagre compensation did not just affect them personally but also the quality of many graduates.
They said 13 years of the private-employee system, instead of being employed as government officials, has deprived them of decent salaries and job security, adding that making teachers contracted workers was affecting the educational sector.
The meeting heard accounts from some Rajabhat University lecturers who had started selling insurance packages to their students in order to make ends meet. Apparently, they were told that the deal could be made in exchange for good grades.
“If we can’t protect our own rights, we can’t protect the rights of our country,” Kasetsart University Assoc Prof Sumit Suwan said. The professor also holds the position of the university’s associate dean for research and academics and is the leader of the newly established Network of University Employees.
Sumit said many of the 40,000 employees of state universities earned very little, especially those from lesser-known institutions, and the reason behind this was bad governance by university administrators and the Education Ministry turning a blind eye. The professor urged his colleagues not to abandon the hope of earning a better livelihood and imparting better education to their students.
Prathai Piriyasurawong, lecturer of Communication Arts at Chiang Rai Rajabhat University and a representative for lecturers from the North, can barely scrape together Bt19,000 despite working extra hours. The 46-year-old has been with the university for eight years now, yet he is still having problems making ends meet and paying his mortgage. However, he refuses to start selling insurance or other things as suggested by his wife.
“Sometimes I simply go home to have instant noodles for lunch,” he told The Nation.
Prathai added that long working hours and a severe shortage of staff were also affecting the quality of education, and he agreed with Sumit, who said that many university administrators were blatantly misusing the funds they received from the government.
“Many of them go overseas every week,” he said, referring to trips dubbed as work or study visits.
Sumit, struggling to hold back tears, told the gathering that he nearly ended up holding the meeting at a temple because many universities refused to host it.
The student teacher ratio at many Rajabhat universities is 130 or more to one, even though ideally there should be one lecturer for every 30 students.
When the group submitted a petition to the authorities, a representative advised them to first try and sort things out with their direct bosses.
Yet, even though the lecturers are not optimistic about there being any change without direct government intervention, a mutiny has begun and people like Sumit and Prathai have been elected to represent those affected.
Prathai said that a drastic change to tactical strategy was required and the network needs to become more aggressive. So far, only TPBS TV station and Matichon newspaper have paid any attention to the group.
“I complained and have been made a leader,” said Prathai, who rode a bus all the way from Chiang Rai.
“The culture of academia is one of compromise, otherwise I would be rallying outside the Education Ministry already.”