Hala Kamal is a member of 9 March Movement, a network of academics which campaigns for freedom of expression on the university campus. She addressed UCU Congress 2011 and here gives an update on recent struggles (interview on 6 June, by members of the MENA Solidarity delegation to Egypt).
“Today there are continual attempts at organising in the form of a union, but these are still taking shape as there are constant shifts in priorities. Finally we have an agreement about a new pay scale that should come into force in July. It is based on the idea that the junior assistant professor who starts their career, they will get double the national minimum wage of 1200 LE which is a demand of the revolution. So we got promises. What was even more important for us was the idea that the maximum wage is 35 times of the minimum wage, because currently the top pay rates of academics and university management can be hundreds of times the basic pay.
For us, in 9 March Movement, the issue of democracy has been more important, because we saw that all these ministers as long as we haven’t established the government for which we fought, and for which we’re fighting, we should not be legitimising the presence of these ministers and trying to achieve immediate minor changes as much as a wider kind of major change.
For example the ministers pick ‘advisory councils’ which spend months working on a new university which was done from ‘up there’ while we were campaigning that the new university law should come from the bottom up. We should be involved in producing suggestions then they should be taken upwards, not that they should be formulated by a group which is working closely with the minister.
We have also made progress on democratic structures in the university. In most universities, most heads of department have been elected. But this has not always been done on a broad basis. We have been campaigning for all academic staff, from junior lecturers to professors to be able to vote on their head of department, but in some cases this hasn’t happened. There has been a bigger struggle over the elections of deans of faculties, because they are in the service of the regime. Some places lecturers have succeeded in putting on pressure to force through elections, but not everywhere.
We are also fighting privatisation and neoliberalism. A colleague of ours recently came back from Manchester and she has been showing us that the direction in which Higher Education in the UK is going has led to the collapse and distortion of education. You can help us in our struggle here. We need to exchange of information and experiences. If you can share publications and documents which show the consequences of the neoliberal policies and the way they are reflected in higher education it will help our fight.”