Linking with stakeholders is key to transforming the University of Guyana (UG) and tackling the range of issues the educational institution faces, says newly-installed President of the University of Guyana’s Students Society (UGSS), Duane Edwards.
Sensitizing UG students and the wider society with regard to the role they can play in the transformation of Guyana’s lone university is a key issue for his presidency, he said in an interview with Stabroek News yesterday. Edwards believes that the “politics of division” has infected the institution and he aims to link with stakeholders to improve conditions there. He noted that overtures have been made in the past to organizations to help develop UG but this has not seen a significant response.
“We live in a very peculiar time and the politics of the country, the politics of division that prevails in the country kind of affects or infects all other institutions in the country and [is] the reason for most of these institutions being so tardy or slothful in their response to play a meaningful role in the development of the university or make a meaningful input,” he said. “It is not an easy task but it is not a reason or a pretext to do nothing about it. It is still our responsibility to do all within our power to transform the situation.”
Edwards’ Students Empowerment Alliance captured the majority of votes at the UGSS elections held on September 28 and he said that he intends to raise students’ awareness of their role in the university after noticing they paid little attention to the issues that affect them. “The kind of social malaise and apathy that you see prevailing in the larger society is exactly what the UG student body is suffering from to a very large extent,” Edwards observed.
Among the first actions on his agenda is to sensitize students to their role in the transformation of UG because for many years, they have been “passive participants in their own demise and in their own difficulties and hardships.” Students at other universities have been making valuable and at times radical moves to deal with direct issues affecting them at university and larger social issues, he pointed out.
He said that public sensitization is also crucial since society benefits from a well-functioning university and has a role to play in making sure the university operates at the level at which it is supposed to. “Any university is a key institution in the development of the entire society at large and if this particular institution fails to perform its function then it would negatively impact on the other institutions,” he said.
Edwards said that he will also focus on tackling the smaller problems. “We’ll tackle the minor problems first, the successes of which will give us the impetus to pursue the more major problems.” Issues like poorly-ventilated classrooms, gar-bage, stray dogs, and the loan system are areas of concern. In some instances, there is no organizational efficiency, said Edwards, and he highlighted the “very tardy” loan system as an example. “Some of the difficulties that students face, they evolve from simple, simple things that can be rectified,” but are not being rectified. “It’s not about the big issues, it’s the small things that the students encounter; students know that they can get better service in many regards that really rile the students,” he said.
A specific action that will be pursued shortly is lobbying businesses to adopt or sponsor a room at UG to “keep it at a level that is conducive to learning,” since there are many lecture rooms that are falling apart.
Edwards said that they plan to get students empowered so they would be able to make their demands en masse. “I think the voice of 5000 students can change or transform any situation,” Edwards said, pointing out that the institution would be pressured to find ways of dealing with problems.
Meantime, he noted that the institution’s financial position has contributed to the situation on campus.
The UG administration has to start thinking in a businesslike manner, he continued, while noting that transformation is a long term goal. “In terms of immediate solution I think the business sector, the government, even the UG alumni, the donor community and all other stakeholders should come together…and work out a short term solution for the UG,” he said. Edwards said that the UGSS will be lobbying these groups to play a more meaningful role in the development, financial or otherwise, of UG.
Businesses, he said, should be playing a bigger role since they benefit directly more than any other person or institution.
In terms of raising student fees, he said that this is not the way to go at this point in time since Guyana is a poor country and with the majority of the population being poor, “I don’t think they are ready financially to bear the burden of higher education costs.” Edwards noted that the tuition fee being paid is not enough to offset the expense of the kind of quality of education expected and education should partly be publicly sponsored.
“We suffer from a lot of things which is in many cases is not the fault of the institution…” he said but declined to expand further saying that he was “fresh” into this system and would like to get to know the inner workings before pronouncing on certain issues.
Edwards, 33, is a third year student pursuing a degree in sociology. He said that while the UGSS is an influential organization with the UG administration, its influence among students has been minimal over the years and he aims to change this. He said that the influence amongst students has faltered because of the way that persons administering the UGSS over the years have been operating.
They have been making fantastic promises and failing to fulfil these, he said.