Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh sees no reason to warrant the closure of the University of Guyana (UG) and has dubbed suggestions by the university’s Vice-Chancellor (VC) Jacob Opadeyi that insufficient funding may necessitate a shutdown by the second week of the coming semester to be reckless.
On Wednesday, Opadeyi told a press conference that closure is an option if only a minority of students are able to pay the “amended” tuition fees announced last month.
Yesterday, Opadeyi clarified that the shutdown would entail the closure of programmes that are not adequately subscribed to, as opposed to a total shutdown of the university’s operations.
A significant amount of UG’s students seek loans to pay tuition fees and the Ministry of Finance has not yet indicated whether it will offer loans to match the increased fees.
If sufficient fees are not collected, Opadeyi has said, the university would not be able to cover its liabilities, including wages and security costs.
Singh, however, says that UG ran on the old fee structure for the 2013/2014 academic year without having to close. He is convinced that the recent decision by the university’s council to hike some tuition and all facilities fees, thereby requiring higher loans, would not see a shutdown. During an interview Singh chided Opadeyi as reckless for announcing that such a shutdown may take place, particularly considering the importance UG holds in the eyes of those seeking affordable tertiary education.
Asked if the Ministry will be offering loans to cover the higher tuition and facilities fees, Singh said the matter is engaging the attention of Cabinet and that talks are ongoing. He could not say if a decision would be forthcoming before the commencement of the new semester.
UG is also yet to benefit from the full disbursement of amounts to facilitate loans under the old fee structure. The entire amount of $450 million was cut from this year’s budget in April. The funds were tied to other unpopular allocations under the Finance Ministry’s capital programme, including funds for the Amaila Project, and so the Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity combined their votes in the National Assembly to cut the entire programme.
Singh later laid the now controversial Financial Paper 1 of 2014 in the National Assembly which showed that, among other things, he authorized the allocation of $225 million for the Student Loan Fund. He said yesterday that it is a norm to make an advance on the allocation for the Student Loan Fund before the first semester of the academic year commences.
The second and final installment is usually made subsequently, he added. He explained that the latter installment has never been made prior to the commencement of the semester and thus concluded that the fact that the second installment has not yet been paid should not impact the ability of students to apply for and access loans, and should therefore not put UG’s ability to function in jeopardy.
With regard to these amounts Singh says government still considers itself committed to making the full amount available, and gave assurances that government will not renege on said commitment.
Opadeyi yesterday explained that UG’s administration will be combing through the university’s programmes to determine which ones have enrollment to the extent that the tuition fees of the students are able to meet the costs associated with the facilitation of the programme.
Stabroek News understands that the university’s History and Art programmes are among those which, traditionally, see very small numbers of students subscribing. These and other programmes are therefore under threat of being pulled. The VC nevertheless pointed out that shutting down the programmes does not solve the problem completely as lecturers still have to be paid whether or not they are actively facilitating courses.
President of the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association Patsy Francis, during consultations ahead of the fee-hike, had said that the union would not tolerate any solution which would see the dismissal of any of the university’s staff. She could not be reached yesterday for a follow-up in light of the recent development.
Meanwhile, students wanting to commence the loan process to pay tuition fees are currently unable to do so as the Student Loan Agency does not have forms to give to students. Stabroek News visited the agency last week and again yesterday and on both occasions there were no forms to be had. One student who turned up to collect a form yesterday was told that none was available and that she should continue calling the agency to find out when they will be.
In recent years loan forms have been available on the university’s website but an employee of the agency said the online copies bear the wrong date and must be changed. Stabroek News spoke to Finance Secretary Neermal Rekha earlier this week and he was unaware of the unavailability of forms. He also said that he does not know of any situation which should have caused the non-availability of the forms.
Stabroek News attempted to speak to Raul Sueho, who supervises the loan agency, but another employee of the agency said that he was otherwise occupied. It is uncertain if any forms have been disseminated for the coming academic year.