The news releases and letters on the University of Guyana are not very comforting.
Those who are responsible for our future as a nation seem not to recognise that a successful national university is a necessary condition for successful transformation. For those who wish to wallow in the vice of poverty and HIPC hand outs, the degradation of the university may mean nothing but some Guyanese still aspire to see the transformation of which our political fathers dreamed and which cannot happen unless the ideals upon which UG was founded are achieved. Development and escape from the tyranny of primary production for a reluctant world are founded on an active and sustained effort at high quality tertiary education. All of the information available from research is unanimous that the path of poor education and minimal technology is the path of servitude.
The modern development paradigm has as a dominant theme the speed and depth of the changes taking place in national, regional and international economies by the impact of digitisation on production and the nature of opportunities that present themselves for investment and development in low income countries. These also affect change in the spatial formations and relationships, including changes in the flows of goods, ideas, people and financial resources described loosely as ‘the globalisation phenomena’.
Then there are changes in modes of communication, linkage and access generated by technological innovation in communications. There is the recognition of importance of enhanced networking and connectivity created by the changing relationships and new structures facilitated by globalisation. The ‘networking phenomenon’ is regarded as a crucial element in creating a successful competitive economic ambience.
Finally, there is recognition of the increased importance of information and knowledge, and the control, acquisition and management of knowledge – ‘the knowledge economy.’
The collective impact of these changes has seen renewed emphasis on higher education and research and technology:
*Increased emphasis on education and training as a target for investment and government priority
*The reform of educational institutions and learning systems in an effort to make low income countries more attractive to investment and to make their workforces and products more competitive
*The reform of labour legislation and practices to facilitate flexibility and competitiveness
*Increased emphasis on computer-assisted learning and management, enhanced communication and telecommunication facilities
*The creation of facilities for continuous learning, retraining and distance education.
These approaches are described in the jargon as the ‘learning society’ or ‘knowledge economy’ models. One expert puts it this way “The global economy is knowledge-based. If you do not perform in this new system, you fall into low-value added production and you never, never develop, regardless of how much you trade. The knowledge economy is based on the combination of technological infrastructure, connectivity, and human resources. Without human resources, nothing works.”
Another writer puts it this way: “As the global economy becomes more competitive, those states and nations that invest the most time and energy in expanding and nurturing their higher education systems, will likely be the big winners of tomorrow”.
Put simply this approach places education, defined broadly to include research and technology as well as basic and general education, as the defining process in the preconditioning for development and economic take off.
This cannot happen if the government is fighting the council, the council is fighting the deans, the Academic Board and itself, the Vice Chancellor is ineffective and humiliated, the new campus is run in a fashion resembling a cake shop rather than a university campus and the state watches over this mess as if it did not cause it in the first place.
Sir Arthur Lewis was fond of saying that a really useful university is a quiet even boring place with academics and students quietly getting on with useful research in the aid of national development. A campus riven with political strife is annoying to serious academics and eventually they will leave and go somewhere else to study their molecules in peace.
Whilst Guyana indulges in idle press releases and useless academic drones hog the media limelight, Trinidad and Barbados are putting all their chips on higher education. And we fall even further behind.