What’s to become of UG?
Rory Fraser is Professor of Forest Economics and Policy at Alabama A & M University. He is a graduate of the University of New Brunswick, Canada, and Pennsylvania State University and has spent 34 of the last 38 years in the UK, Canada, Jamaica, and the USA either attending or teaching at universities and working in forestry related fields.
What should anyone expect of the Tuesday October 23, 2012 meeting of the University of Guyana unions and the administration? Will it be more of the same posturing, token action, a long hiatus followed by more of the same? What does it take to move things in Guyana?
In the interest of full disclosure, I will indicate that I ask these questions as a member of the Guyanese diaspora who has worked with the University for over 20 months since September 2009 and have applied for the position of Vice Chancellor when it was advertised earlier this year. I ask these questions as someone who has participated in four recent major initiatives to revitalize a moribund institution: a Strategic Plan (University of Guyana Strategic Plan (USD $20.2, 2009-12) – Advancing Management, Infrastructure and Quality) Review, a proposal to the World Bank for a USD$10m loan, (2011-2015) University of Guyana Science and Technology Support Project, a stakeholder dialogue leading to a draft Terms of Reference for The Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (US$2m grants in 2010 and 2011) “International Centre for Bio-Diversity Research” (ICBR), and a grant from Caribbean Development Bank (USD250,000 grant, May – Dec, 2011) – Enhancement of Governance Structure for the Improvement of Operations at the University of Guyana. I ask these questions because the University currently operates without a Chancellor, and Vice Chancellor. I ask these questions because I have been reliably informed the acting Vice-Chancellor is approaching retirement age, and the Pro-Chancellor’s contract is about to expire. Finally, I ask these questions because the members of the University community are insecure about the future, tired of asking questions that those in decision-making positions seem incapable of answering, and/or do not expect anything to happen in light of a long record of institutional neglect.
I visited Guyana from 5th to15th October, 2012 and three contrasting experiences left me astounded. I had planned to participate in a UG stakeholders’ review of the consultants’ (Hamilton) draft report which had been twice postponed in August, September- to October 8-9th. A few days before my departure I was advised that the meeting was postponed until January (they did not say which year!). I visited the campus briefly on the 5th October and took off for a hurriedly planned visit to Paramakatoi which was smoothly arranged and facilitated by two wonderful young people. I then spent five glorious days of travel, work, and camaraderie with the Steering Committee of the Rupununi LCDS. The striking difference in these experiences was the air of neglect and despondency in the UG campus versus the vitality and enterprise of the youths and the non-profit sector. In Turkeyen I felt I was in a stable of hobbled horses, while in the interior I felt I was in the company of spirited thoroughbreds. Let me suggest how the hobbles work by talking about the four UG initiatives.
In 2009, shortly after his appointment Professor Carrington, Vice Chancellor (ad interim) reviewed UG’s strategy plan and put together a three year (2009-2012) plan which was revised (to accommodate the Ministry of Education concerns) and submitted to Cabinet for approval. Cabinet approved the plan but there were no amendments to UG’s budget allocation in the three years to reflect the US$20 million resources requested. Despite the lack of support, UG attempted most of the low/no cost activities in the plan. Two notable efforts were a quality enhancement training and a quality improvement programme, and the development of a Campus Master Plan. UG also used the plan to seek alternative sources of funds, hence the three other initiatives. Unfortunately, Professor Carrington’s contract was not extended to allow for the search and identification of a successor, the primary reason he accepted his interim appointment. I know he was personally disappointed and foresaw the current delays and loss of continuity.
The Caribbean Development Bank was approached for a US$250,000 grant to address a major plank in the strategic plan – revision of the institution’s 1963 Acts and Statutes, which has been a major constraint on the university’s ability to operate as its counterparts in the region. After a number of delays, the project was finally approved with a targeted completion date of October 2012. To the best of my knowledge the consultants have met all the deadlines and have tried to bring closure to the project in a timely manner. However, Guyana’s political lethargy and the vicissitudes of UG’s bureaucracy have contributed to the delays mentioned above. All of the Guyanese stakeholders have not yet had an opportunity to consider the many important and relevant perspectives/recommendations presented by the consultants.
The World Bank project was UG’s attempt to fund critical elements of the strategic plan i.e. developing the science and technology programmes in support of the government’s LCDS strategy. When the proposal was first presented to UG through the Office of the President of Guyana it came in the form of a request for a US$10 million Biodiversity Centre building. The World Bank, however, could not accommodate the request for a building. There was a limited time frame for approval from the last of low cost funds for education (for highly indebted nations) which had a 2012 expiry date. After some debate the Office of the President finally consented to the project being written in support of major infrastructural, academic, and development efforts identified in UG’s Strategic Plan. One of the components was the feasibility study of an International Centre for Biodiver-sity Research (ICBR) in support of the LCDS. I am reliably informed that the government has (after 18 months) finally signed the agreement for the project, just before it was due to expire.
UG went about a very deliberate effort to develop the Terms of Reference for an ICBR in 2011 – based on the commitment in the LCDS of US$2 million per year to UG for the five years, and the opportunity for a feasibility study offered under the WB project. A team of international experts and an experienced facilitator were brought by UG to Guyana with funds supplied by partner institutions. Over a two-day period there was a series of discussions organized with over 100 stakeholders or groups drawn from public agencies, non-profit, private and academic sectors, and rural communities. Additional meetings with the National Toshaos Council and other private sector leaders helped refine the final products which included the full details of the proceedings, a report, and the draft terms of reference. I have been informed that very little movement to advance this initiative has occurred since the departure of Professor Carrington.
So, what will this meeting on Tuesday accomplish? I do not know. However, I have some burning questions I wanted to discuss during the repeatedly postponed UG stakeholder meeting, among which were:
1. Should UG’s Council be drawn from stakeholders or should it be populated by those who bring financial, legal, academic, business, international, perspectives to the institution? Or a mix of both?
2. Should UG’s Council be as large as it currently is? Are the current requirements for the quorum appropriate for maintaining accountability and trans-parency? Should there be term limits and staggered appointments to the Council?
3. How can UG integrate the WB project, the LCDS funding, and prior work on the ICBR and the Campus Master Plan in the funding and transformation plans?
4. How will the UG regulatory framework ensure due diligence with regard to institutional autonomy, acade-mic freedom and academic integrity, and a commitment to a non-discriminatory culture of governance and management?
5. Is it possible for UG to be supported in addressing national human capacity development needs through allocation of the nation’s primary assets i.e. land and its associated resources?
Personally, I would like to see UG as a vital organization connected to the people and the activities I had the good fortune to enjoy recently. I have made this point in three prior (In the Diaspora) articles – UG is the fulcrum on which Guyana’s future is delicately balanced. There are tremendous opportunities for development as these four initiatives indicate. I would like to see UG as an institution engaged in understanding how schools and legal businesses can make a place like Paramakatoi a safe haven for its people.
I would like to see UG as an institution engaged in developing/ refining a national development strategy that can envision benefits for all of Guyanese citizens. The University has the potential to implement that strategy with all stakeholders. LCDS Rupununi can serve as a model for engaging and empowering Guyanese and the Univer-sity should play a similar role at the national level.
There is much more I think the University of Guyana can accomplish if it is allowed to develop the thoroughbreds.