This is the view of visiting Professor Dr Rory Fraser who in an interview with Sunday Stabroek recently said the first order of the day is to make the institution into a semi-autonomous body whose life-blood is not dependent on funding from the government. Dr Fraser, a professor at the Alabama A & M University in the US who has spent 18 of the last 27 months in Guyana lecturing in the Faculty of Forestry and Agriculture at UG, expressed the view that the university needs to have other areas from which funding is generated, and that this would be the first step in ensuring the retention of highly qualified and experienced human resources. He noted that there has been a haemorrhaging of qualified people from UG and most of them have left for the University of West Indies.
Professor Fraser noted that both the APNU and AFC, which combined now hold the majority in the National Assembly, had the improvement of the country’s education sector high on their campaign agendas, and he hopes they follow through with their promises. He said they had indicated that UG will be a priority, and he is optimistic that the institution will be brought up to the standard of universities around the world.
According to Dr Fraser the institution cannot function with “one set of ideas” but rather an environment must be created where “ideas flourish” and enquiries and challenges flourish. “If it is run like a high school then we would get high school quality people coming out…” Dr Fraser said during the interview.
He described the education system at the university as “constricting” and as such the teachers who attend the university create the same “type of constricting environment in the schools.”
“And so education is no longer exciting… [therefore] a very important part of the university function is getting the right people in charge,” Dr Fraser said, adding that the persons in charge at the institution must know about education and understand its role in society.
“These are not things that you hand as political favours to people or people who are disinterested; what you need to do is get people who are committed to the idea of a quality institution,” he said.
It was pointed that there are a lot of qualified persons in Guyana who are not being utilized as the powers that be prefer persons “who would basically go along with the agenda.”
Tertiary education, he continued, is controlled by the government, noting that the university is not even part of any accreditation body. He said too that in other universities the governing bodies are made up of persons who know how to raise money, because they do not depend on one source of funding.
The retirement age of 55 is another issue the professor said should be addressed, as the university has been losing some very good people in the prime of their lives.
Guyana is crying out for persons with proper leadership qualities, said Dr Fraser, and migration has seen the country losing generations of leaders, the irony being that UG is the institution that should be training the country’s leaders.
He went on to say that the statutes of the university have seen very few changes in the course of the fifty years since the institution came into existence. An evaluation of the statutes would help to address many of the current issues at UG, and funding has already been approved for this. Six companies are now being evaluated and one will eventually be given the contract to carry out the evaluation in another six months.
World Bank funding
Of grave concern to Dr Fraser is the fact that a proposal for funding from the World Bank, which has been approved by the bank is yet to receive the signature of Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh six months after the university submitted it to his office.
He said that he is not sure “who approached who,” but the university became aware that funding was available and a proposal was done with three main components. These included a curriculum review of the science and technology programmes encompassing the School of Environmental Sciences, the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, the Faculty of Technology and the Faculty of Natural Sciences. The infrastructure of the university was also to be addressed and once the project was signed then funding would be available for the improvement of the drainage and electrical systems on campus. There would also be the upgrading of some the university’s laboratories and the laying of cables for an internet connection. Dr Fraser said that three teams from the World Bank had visited the university before the final document was drafted and later approved by the bank, but now it is up to the government to move the process forward.
On a positive note, the visiting professor sees the university as an institution bursting with potential and said the negative reporting on it “seems to ignore all the good things that have been going on.”
“Let me put things in perspective; the university I teach at is the same size in terms of number of students… but it has ten times the resources and it is not a very well-endowed university in America. As a matter of fact we complain about the lack of resources,” Dr Fraser said.
In comparison, UG has been operating on a “very slender budget,” but despite this he said “it seems to deliver people” who have done quite well for themselves, and he made specific reference to President Donald Ramotar who studied at UG along with more than half of the present cabinet members who were also once students at the UG.
“And the complaint is that ninety per cent of people with a tertiary education have left Guyana for more lucrative opportunities. It sounds to me that UG, despite its limited resources is doing a pretty good job.”
He noted that in another two years the university would be celebrating 50 years of existence and in that time some very highly qualified persons have studied at the institution and are now employed not only in Guyana but around the world.
However, what has happened in the last ten to fifteen years, he explained, is that there has been a reduction of senior faculty members and at present less than ten per cent of faculty consists of senior persons. Additionally many faculty members are temporary in addition to which there are a whole slew of programmes that are currently available at UG, which begs the question how the university will be in a position to have programmes of quality when it’s so thin on human resources.
But according to Dr Fraser, in the months he has been at UG the institution has not been ignoring the fact that it has failed to retain the qualified lecturers or that the payment to those persons is a pittance when compared to what is paid regionally. He said the university has not been ignoring this issue, and pointed to the strategic plan prepared by UG’s Vice Chancellor Lawrence Carrington, who had undertaken a charge given by the government to prepare the plan.
Earlier this year Stabroek News had reported on a leaked report done by Carrington in which he had argued that Guyana could not afford to continue to neglect the needs of its university and had expressed grave concern over the dire financial situation at the institution pointing to the lack of response from the government to a plea for more money.
In the report, which he had submitted to the university’s council in February this year, Carrington had written that when he took up his appointment the indications were that the government would seek to increase its support once the university had an approved strategic plan and had taken steps to deal with quality assurance issues.
Carrington had revealed that the strategic plan was approved by the Council in December 2009 and that they had started the pathway to formal quality assurance by having a formative intervention by consultants from UWI, and had appointed a coordinator. He had said too that they were also working with the Common-wealth of Learning to advance the process.
Carrington had said too that the university’s continuing deficit and its impact on its cash flow is sufficient basis for an increase in the 2011 subvention; the university was then requesting that an addition sum of $250M be the minimum consideration by the Finance Ministry.
For the last three years, he had said, the university’s financial statements had shown an operational deficit in excess of $150M for each year, and the Student Loan Agency had been requested to advance $200M in each of those years in order to pay the deficit. Still, he observed that this had not been a solution to the campus’ deficit operations.
Several efforts by Stabroek News to get further information on the issue and on the status of the strategic plan were futile as no one at the institution was prepared to speak
Fraser in the interview with Sunday Stabroek said that the process never moved past the appointment of the coordinator for the quality assurance, since there are no resources to move it forward.
“So that’s there, [and] it is ready to go,” he told the Sunday edition adding that when the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) came along UG made its contribution to the document in which it attempted to articulate that the university can be involved.
He said the institution went further and had an internal consultation and those involved came up with a number of research ideas and training opportunities under the LCDS programme.