University professors in the Houthi-controlled northern Yemen region are threatening to go on strike as of October, disrupting the new academic year. The syndicate representing the professors says they have not received their wages for the past five years.
In a statement, the Supreme Council for Coordination between Syndicates of Faculty Members at Yemen’s public universities said that “in the event that government agencies do not rush to address the imbalances in the educational process and the status of faculty members’ rights in terms of salaries, settlements and additions, they will start an ascending path that will end with a comprehensive strike.”
“All faculty members and their assistants in eight universities in northern Yemen have not been receiving their salaries for more than five years,” said an official of a faculty syndicate at a university in northern Yemen. The official asked to remain anonymous out of fear for his personal safety, explaining that a number of Yemeni academics have been killed after speaking out.
The latest of those was Mohammed Ali Naeem, a professor of architecture in the Faculty of Engineering at Sana’a University, who was assassinated by unknown gunmen on a street last month. On his Facebook page, Naeem had called on the authorities to pay the overdue salaries of university professors. “They think we have forgotten our salaries. No, we have not,” he wrote in one post, ending it with a hashtag that reads #ReleaseOurSalaries in Arabic.
“All faculty members and their assistants in eight universities in northern Yemen have not been receiving their salaries for more than five years .”An official of a faculty syndicate at a university in northern Yemen
Yemen has been torn by conflict since 2014, when the Houthi rebel movement seized control of the capital, Sana’a, in the northern part of the country. The exiled internationally recognized government has headquarters at Aden, in the south.
The eight public universities in northern Yemen are those of Sana’a, Thamar, Al-Bayda’, Amran, Saada, Hodeidah, Ibb and Hajjah. (See a related article, “Yemen’s War Reaches Into Public-University Classrooms.”)
Forced to Teach
“The militias force academics to continue the educational process, preventing the issuance of protest statements from the unions under their control,” the faculty syndicate official in northern Yemen said. “This has caused severe suffering to academics, university employees and their families, and left a negative impact on the educational process despite its apparent continuation over the past years.” (See a related article, “Yemen: Chaos, War and Higher Education.”)
Early this year, there were negotiations between Yemeni faculty members and authorities in the Houthi-backed government in Sana’a to resolve this crisis. However, the talks ended with the payment of two months’ salaries in four monthly installments, before professors’ pay was stopped again, the syndicate official said.
Hussein Hazeb, the minister of higher education in the Houthi government, did not respond to Al-Fanar Media’s inquiries about the reasons for suspending professors’ pay.
In a phone call, Ali Hefdallah Mohammed, a professor at Yemen’s Thamar University, said that “the government’s justification for cutting salaries again was based on allegations about preventing the circulation of new banknotes printed in Aden” by the internationally recognized government.
“Most university professors are unable to facilitate their lives. Some have sold their property, and others are living in debt and are unable to pay the rent of their houses,” he said. “Some started working in other jobs, and some migrated to villages in search for a job opportunity.”
The situation of university professors in southern Yemen is better than that of their peers in the north. In the south, wages in six universities have been regularly paid without interruption.
The six public universities are those of Aden, Abyan, Hadhramout, Saba, Seiyun, and Shabwa, the latter is a new university.
“The government meets its commitments with Yemeni university professors, and not a single academic salary has been cut off,” said Majed Murshid, a professor at Abyan University’s College of Education.
“Wages do not meet the simplest living requirements, due to the high prices and economic inflation resulting from the collapse of the national currency, which has made the salary lose more than half of its value.”Majed Murshid
A professor at Abyan University’s College of Education.
However, professors complain about their low wages.
“Wages do not meet the simplest living requirements, due to the high prices and economic inflation resulting from the collapse of the national currency, which has made the salary lose more than half of its value,” said Murshid.
A professor in a Yemeni university gets about $250 a month, while a teaching assistant’s salary drops to $80 a month, according to Murshid.
Yemeni university professors in the north and south agree that there are additional challenges that threaten the new academic year, most notably the low number of enrolled students, the continuous power cuts, and the lack of equipment in all Yemeni universities.
For example, the number of freshmen at Thamar University’s Faculty of Education dropped from more than 1,000 students in 2014 to only 200 in the new academic year, says Hefdallah Mohammed, the education professor, stressing that Yemeni families have become unable to afford the university tuition fees for their children due to the high prices and the decline in job opportunities. (See a related article, “Yemeni Students Are Caught in a Currency Exchange Trap.”)
Non-payment of salaries, coupled with difficult security conditions, has caused dozens of academics to leave Yemen or to move to other governorates in search of better living conditions. (See a related article, “For a Yemeni Researcher, Emigration Is the Only Opportunity.”)
“The militias have replaced competent academics with elements affiliated to them that lack the qualifications and degrees required to occupy such positions.”Abdul-Ghani Tarish
A professor at Sana’a University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
One of those is Samir Abdul-Ghani Tarish, a professor at Sana’a University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, who left the university and moved to Saudi Arabia after realizing that his options had become “nil.”
Tarish currently chairs the syndicate committee for faculty members at Sana’a University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. “The militias have replaced competent academics with elements affiliated to them that lack the qualifications and degrees required to occupy such positions,” said Tarish in a phone call, “This has largely disrupted the educational process and level, and caused an unprecedented decline in the ranking of Yemeni universities in world university rankings.” (See a related article, “Why Yemen Needs More Support for Higher Education.”)
Tarish described the fates of university professors in Northern Yemen, ranging from being detained, threatened because of their political views, or exiled. “The university has become a conflict arena,” he said.
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Nadine Al-Mawry, a professor of politics and economics at Sana’a University, agrees. Al-Mawry moved to Cairo after having a difficult experience working without pay. She is currently participating in a campaign from outside Yemen to demand payment of professors’ suspended salaries back home.
“There could be no future for academics in a country ruled by militias,” she said.