Monday, May 26, 2014

Teacher Redundancies!

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) -   'Energy is the basis of everything' or 'Energia Omnium Fundamentum', is the motto of Moscow's Power and Engineering institute'. However, staff at the English language department don't seem to feel any       boundlessly and abundant energy flowing around. Instead they feel dissipated, disenchanted and 'on edge'. Their batteries are not being revitalised but are slowly running out. They are at an all time low! For the atmosphere is charged with tension which just can't be abruptly switched off. Unpleasant rumours are in the air that as many as 20 English Russian staff may be made redundant. The previous number was reputed to be ten. Out of 35 teachers, as many as 20 may or may not be laid off. This amounts to almost two thirds of staff. Yet all fear is based on rumour, hearsay and hints. There has been no official statement of how many or who will lose their jobs. So teachers are asking themselves 'Will or won't I be on the redundancy list?'

             The lingering and prolonged uncertainty might be worse than the redundancy itself. The management was supposed to have met on the 10th of May to make a decision. If they have already made a firm decision then none of the staff are aware. When I asked  a teacher whom I will call 'Katya', 'Why do you think teachers are being made redundant?' - she answered 'I don't know. There has been no explanation. The number of students at the institute remain the same, as far as I know'. The teachers are quite justified in being alarmed. Katya informed me that the faculty of physics has witnessed mass redundancies and has been 'devastated'.

             Moscow Power Engineering institute is one of the most famous universities in Moscow. It retains a high reputation for excellent  teaching as well as research. Founded in 1930, it currently has 2000 teachers and 15,000 students and a new rector, Nikoli Rogalev. The previous rector was fired a year ago.

             The number of English classes a student receives has been cut while less teachers are being employed. A student now only obtains 2 hours of English lessons a week. Despite lowering the number of teachers and classes, the administration has demanded the quality of English teaching be improved. The management have a strange way of showing an example of raising standards. Less staff and less hours are to improve student performance!

             Why are their redundancies? Is it government cutbacks, bad financial adminstration ,corruption or incompetance? Or are there far less students? No teacher has been provided with an explicit reason but it is quite reasonable for him or her to ask 'Why am I going to be made redundant?' This is important  because so many laid off teachers unjustly blame themselves and misleadingly persuade themselves they are bad teachers when in reality there are other imperceptible reasons for the decision.

             For teachers such as Katya, is is not easy. Her hours at the institute have already been decreased and she once thought work at the state institute provided a steady income. Katya is a single mother of 40 who struggles to look after two daughters. She does three teaching jobs; one at Moscow state university, another at a private school and another at Moscow's Power Engineering institute. On top of this she takes on extra private students.

             What is more she is constantly cooking, shopping and taking her children to school. She has no day off. I have seen her marking homework on both Saturday and Sunday. She told me 'I don't know how I am going to get by!

             I just hope something will turn up'. If she and other English teachers are made redundant they won't be alone. Since January, 77 universities have lost their licenses. The Russian Government intends to pump money into what it perceives are the best universities so that by 2020, five universities will win a place in the World's top hundred. The Russian government is party closing down universities and making redundancies in order that   her universities remain high in the western rating game. So Western approval and agreement still matters to a government who indulges in anti-western rhetoric.

             A central problem for many teachers at this institute and other educational institutes is that there are often no trade-unions which would stand up for them. If there are any trade-unions, the teachers I have spoken to don't appear aware of them. Without a strong trade-union, teachers will continue to be made redundant without any 'rhyme or reason'. Redundancy might be viewed as 'one of those things', as natural as falling rain. Teachers   will accept job losses as 'Just fate'. But in practice, mass redundancies are not accidental, natural or just fate, but an ill-calculated commercial decision with adverse long term effects. In fact, mass redundancies might even turn out to represent unwise book-balancing!  It is high time an honest explanation for mass redundancies was offered. Teachers are not toys to be thrown around by capricious administrators in a kindergarten class!

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