CAIRO—Professors at public universities in Egypt, already struggling to get by on low salaries, are responding with frustration and anger to a decision by the Egyptian Ministry of Finance to reduce their pay.
According to the decision, which was issued without prior notice to public universities on October 21, ten percent of the rewards and allowances that a full-time professor receives will now be deducted as work-income tax, and a general tax of 22.5 percent will be applied to annual income. This comes despite the fact that Egyptian law exempts professor salaries from taxes. In addition, the decision freezes increases to the rewards portion of professors’ pay, even if base salaries increase.
“The decision is not clear, and interpretations of it differ,” said Mohammed Kamal, spokesman for the Egyptian Independent Syndicate of Faculty Members and a professor at the Faculty of Arts of Beni-Suef University. Kamal pointed out that 90 percent of a public university professor’s salary is categorized as rewards and incentives.
University professor salaries in Egypt are subject to a 1972 law that determines pay primarily based on the scientific degree held by the professor, says Tarek Mansour, director of the Faculty of Arts at Ain Shams University. According to the law, each professor’s salary starts at 1,200 to 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($150 to $250), before the addition of rewards and incentives that range between 1,500 and 8,000 Egyptian pounds ($190 to $1,000), depending on the faculty member’s degree.
“All these remunerations vary, and they are not counted as part of a professor’s official base salary, which is used to calculate things like death benefits to his or her family. That amount is typically no more than 1,000 Egyptian pounds at retirement age,” Mansour said.
Public-university professors in the Arab world face huge difficulties in achieving middle-class living standards due to low pay, according to the results of a survey by Al-Fanar Media (See related article “The Economic Struggle of Public-University Professors.”)
Egyptian Minister of Higher Education Ashraf Al-Sheehi said in an official statement that his ministry is not aware of any decisions by the ministry of finance. He emphasized that the Egyptian government cares about the interests and rights of faculty members.
Still, professors confirm that the decision has been made, and has come into force. “Some universities implemented the decision, and deducted professors’ salaries earlier this month,” said Wael Bahgat, a professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Alexandria. “This is contrary to the law, which exempts professors’ base salaries from taxes,” he said. According to the new law, he said, increases in salaries will range from 30 to 100 Egyptian pounds ($4 to $12) depending on the degree a professor holds, while the annual inflation rate is at least 15 to 20 percent annually.
“In five years’ time, professors’ salaries will have no value, since they will increase by around 5 percent, while prices will go up 75 to 100 percent,” Bahgat said.
The new decision applies to public universities only. Private universities are subject to a different special law. Salaries at private universities range up to twice those of professors at public universities, said Kamal, the spokesman of the Independent Syndicate of Faculty Members.
Public-university professors have long demanded higher salaries. Mansour, the director of the Faculty of Arts at Ain Shams University, says professors offered a proposal in 2012 to reform the pay structure, but the effort was hampered by the troubled political situation. Later, after the ousting of President Morsi, salaries increased through the addition of allowances ranging from 1,000 to 3,500 Egyptian pounds ($125 to $440), and further increases were promised.
“It is not right to talk about reducing the salaries of university professors in a country recently classified as ranking among the lowest in terms of the quality of education,” said Aliya Al-Mahdi, a professor at Cairo University’s Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences. Al-Mahdi pointed out that the minimum salary for a university professor should not be less than 15,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,850). “My newly graduated students receive salaries that are higher than the maximum wage limit for a university professor, if they get a job in banking,” she said.
In response to the decision, and in order to improve the conditions of public-university professors, the Independent Syndicate of Faculty Members plans to hold a meeting entitled “The Conference of Dignity” on November 20th. “Instead of receiving a cut in pay, a professor needs an increase in his salary in order to be motivated to work, and to do scientific research,” said Mohamed El-Shakafie, a professor at the department of physics at Benha University’s Faculty of Science. El-Shakafie said that given the critical importance of education to Egypt’s future, he wondered about the reason for the new cuts in professor salaries at a time when salaries for those in the army, judiciary, and police are increasing.