Professor Daizal Samad, Director of the University of Guyana Berbice Campus (UGBC) has been shaking up the academic and administrative structures at the campus and there is now greater community and student involvement.
In an interview with Stabroek News, Professor Samad, who was distressed about the old-fashioned way in which the teaching was done at the Tain campus and the old administrative structure said when lecturers go to him with new ideas he would gladly implement them.
Some of the new teaching methods include the use of the social networking site, Facebook while the campus is also involved in computer distance education via a lecturer in Toronto.
A major accomplishment too, he said, is that he has successfully been securing scholarships for brilliant students of the community who cannot afford the university fees.
According to him, “People are coming forward with scholarships for needy Berbicians because I went and knocked on doors.”
These persons include two local businessmen as well as a group of New York-based residents who were “impressed about what they heard and read about the campus.”
He pointed out that, “Unfortunately, not all the decisions affecting the Ber-bice campus depend on the director but it depends on Turkeyen [campus].”
He related that the campus is “thin on human resources and thin on talent” and did not do well for the first eight years. The campus has 30 full-time lecturers with a lot travelling from Turkeyen.
He said the UGBC should be given a chance to advertise for positions that are available as the main focus is for higher education. He would love to advertise internationally for lecturers but he does not “have that luxury.”
One of his visions too is for more scholarly output and for more young lecturers to be sponsored for Phds and return to serve the country.
The professor who has contacts in China and Malaysia plans to approach them to assist with the scholarships.
He said the programmes should be redesigned so that “each academic programme would have an internship component.” This way, he said, students can learn what it is like in the world of work.”
He noted that “for two and a half years we have worked very hard to correct some of the programme weaknesses.”
The campus is now offering degree programmes in Agriculture, Education, Social Sciences and an associate degree in English. They are also “working at bringing home the degree programme” in social work.
Samad, who has written several books, pointed out that the students were performing well in their courses but were weak in language.
As he moves the campus forward, he has also corrected problems including “fiscal mismanagement and administrative weaknesses and the refusal to work for and with the community in which the campus exists, even though that is the reason for it being there.”
The professor noted that, “If we cannot change the way of thinking, then we cannot change the way of acting” and stressed that changes can come about if we have “imagination, intelligence and integrity.”
There are times when he gets discouraged and frustrated but he still comes to work and has “wonderful family and friends who support me.”
He lamented too that as public servants we must be “incorruptible and clean; don’t cheat, lie and steal.” He was happy that the “campus does not have financial problems because we are scrupulous about how we spend taxpayers’ money.”
Involving the community is a top priority he is working with almost every social and religious organization, the business sector and the chambers of commerce.
He was happy for the support of the government, the regional authority, especially the chairman, Zulfikar Mustapha and Berbicians.
“I work with everyone because the end is to uplift the community… In the 70s a university was above the society but that does not happen now,” he told this newspaper.
The professor who taught and researched in five continents said “every time you see more than three students coming [into his office] you know it is a delegation and you know it’s trouble.”
But this has not been the case with his students who would sometimes go to seek permission on developmental issues, like “getting the basketball court going.”
He related that he would immediately think about the money and wonder how it would happen but the students would have it all worked out.
Some of the students had also built all of the fire stations with hydrants, sand buckets and other equipment and have also worked on the sidewalks.
“It shows that the students are now part of the community.” Even the businesspersons are contributing and have funded the last two or three convocations.
According to him other improvements at the campus include air-conditioned offices for the lecturers, an extended building and the establishment of one of the best information technology (IT) centres in Berbice.
It also boasts a library that is developing and growing with books, some of which are being donated by Dr. Julian Jailall and other persons. There has also been a spike in research and publications.
The professor said too that more workshops for students are being offered including for Business English as well as IT training for staff.
The Tain campus has also brought Dr. Joseph Farley from France to run a series of free workshops including new developments in IT, medical equipment and solar systems.
Professor Samad also contributed to the relocation of the Cyril Potter College of Education from the JC Chandisingh Secondary School to the John’s campus which was much more suitable.
Not only are the staff and students benefitting from training programmes but they are being offered to every batch of new officers of the Felix Austin Police College for one week.
The topics include ethics and ethical behaviour, oral communication and mannerly conduct, domestic violence and conflict resolution, the fundamentals of law and report writing.
The officers also spend three days in the computer centre where they undergo training – “for the first time in the history of Berbice” – in information technology. The training which runs every six months is “progressive, continuous and sustainable.”
Professor Samad said that the training for the law officers is necessary so that there can be a safer and more secure community.
He noted too that “if there is a corrupt officer the weight of the whole system would come down on its head because the one would spoil the uniform.”
The Community Police Groups also benefit from free training programmes including IT and police report writing.
With regards to the farmers, he said they are working with different batches to conduct soil testing and to learn scientific techniques of planting and growing.
This is conducted by researcher, Dr. Gomes who operates from the John’s location of the campus. He pointed out that the farmers also share their skills on traditional farming.
Meanwhile, apart from the educational aspect, he has been working with groups on sports like boxing, cricket, football, athletics and basketball.
He recently formed the Berbice Amateur Boxing Board and has since sent 31 boxers to Georgetown to compete. He was proud that they brought back the novice champion, six under 15 champions and eight runners-up.
The young boxers, he said would train at gyms at New Amsterdam, Canje and Rose Hall Town. Equipment is needed for the gyms and he said Minister of Sport, Dr. Frank Anthony has promised to assist.
A few students that this newspaper spoke to were pleased with the services offered and said the lecturers work beyond the call of duty.
Second year student, Leon Suseran said the university has an “open-door policy. It has been serving Berbicians in an excellent way and is moving on the upward side under the leadership of the director and the dynamic staff.”
He said too that there is a variety of courses to choose from and also referred to the “well-stocked” library as well as the computer which not only trains students but teachers as well.
Another student told SN that “things are good” and he was “trying to make the most of it.” He noted though that some of the courses start late because of the lecturers who have to travel from Georgetown.
A student who has obtained an associate degree in Education Math is now reading for a degree in the same course, noting that “students pushed for that.”
She also feels that more courses should be started and that the university needs better lecturers. “Some of them are not that qualified and would not be too familiar with the content they are supposed to deliver.”
She did a lot of research though and was able to emerge as an honours roll student. She said the other facilities are ok and that students can have access to the library and computer room when needed.
She pointed out too that the “online registration is tedious especially when applying for exemption. It takes a long time and staff is not too capable of using the computer so instead of helping they can confuse you. The online registration needs to be upgraded.”