In recent weeks, strikes and protests by primary and secondary education professionals indicate that education, as in other sectors, has reached a breaking point. In higher education and science, there is also a widespread perception that all limits have already been crossed.
It is not possible to continue to increase the number of professors and researchers with fixed-term and part-time contracts, nor is it feasible to maintain progression rules with such high levels of demand that only a tiny part manages to move up the salary scale. The precariousness causes the wages earned to remain, with each new contract, at the lowest level. This is a situation that the European Commission has already condemned Portugal to correct, even if this is not happening in higher education and science. The lack of progression means that many professionals – 2/3 according to a questionnaire by the National Union of Higher Education (SNESup) in 2022 – have never changed ranks even though they have been working, on average, for 20 years in this profession.
These are clear and unacceptable signs of devaluation, both symbolic and material, of the work of higher education researchers and professors. It should also be noted that these professionals lost around 10% of their purchasing power between April 2021 and April 2022, with the situation continuing to deteriorate in recent months.
In October 2022, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education proposed a negotiation protocol to SNESup that includes fundamental legal diplomas to correct problems and dignify the working conditions and employment of researchers and higher education professors. The starting gun for these negotiation processes should have been given in December, but so far the MCTES has not given any sign of life on this matter. Can’t wait any longer!
It’s just that time is passing and the problems that these negotiations should correct are continually getting worse. First of all in private higher education, where the work of researchers and professors has been unregulated for 15 years, discretion reigns in terms of hiring and remuneration.
The situation of scientists is also worsening, who are currently mostly contracted on a fixed-term basis with salary levels lower than those for the first level of their respective careers, while the promised update of the Scientific Research Career Statute, which has remained unchanged since its publication, continues to be postponed. at the end of the last century. Many researchers, who have now been working for ten or 20 years, have net monthly salaries of just over 1000 euros. Regarding these matters, we have not yet received any proposal for union negotiation, which should have happened last December.
The calendar proposed by MCTES also foresees, in 2024, the revision of the statutes of teaching careers. This is essential to create conditions for integration into the careers of those who have been teaching in a precarious situation for many years and to provide fair and transparent mechanisms for career progression, which must cover a much larger number of teachers.
With regard to the evaluation and revision of the Legal Regime of Higher Education Institutions (RJIES) – a diploma that structurally transformed the organization, management and governance model of institutions – the MCTES has recently acted. He appointed a commission, said to be independent, to carry out an evaluation that has been postponed over the last decade due to the inaction of successive governments. However, this committee, by not including representatives of teachers and researchers, is excluding the contributions and knowledge that has been produced and disseminated, namely by SNESup, on this matter. Now, it is imperative that the evaluation and revision process of the RJIES be participatory and open to a plurality of organizations and citizens, so that the negative effects of the application of this law are effectively diagnosed and corrected.
If investment in science and advanced qualification is strategic for the country’s development, higher education researchers and professors are a fundamental resource to achieve this goal. SNESup management has concrete proposals on each of the matters to be negotiated with MCTES. But the government must not continue to turn its back on those who, on a daily basis, produce high-level science and contribute to the advanced qualification of young and adult students.
The author writes according to the new spelling agreement