No viable alternative to investing in UG

-World Bank project document

Education Minister Priya Manickchand’s announcement that officials are working to fulfil the major conditions of a loan to upgrade the science and technology faculties of the University of Guyana (UG) signals progress on crucial financing, which the World Bank has said can open new doors for the institution.

Seven months ago, the World Bank board announced the approval of a US$10 million loan to the university but to date, the loan agreement has not been signed. The objective is to strengthen the four science and technology faculties at UG through infrastructure, research and curricular improvements while building the basis for improved facilities management and future growth.

The signing of the loan agreement is one of the key demands of staff who are participating in the industrial action at Guyana’s lone university. Government has 18 months after the project is approved to sign the agreement and once it is signed, 90 days to fulfil the conditions of effectiveness. The project is divided into three components and implementation will be done within five years. It wraps up in 2017.

“From a technical perspective, there is little doubt that the current conditions at UG, in terms of existing infrastructure, laboratories, equipment, teaching staff, research facilities, etc, justify the proposed project investments. Short of sending abroad all Guyanese secondary school graduates who wish to continue their science studies at the higher education level, and/or importing the requisite skills and expertise for the implementation of the LCDS at high cost, there is no alternative to investing in the University of Guyana. The UG is the most logical primary source of the human capital needed for the LCDS, and generation of this human capital requires a holistic approach and the full range of project investments proposed,” the World Bank document says.

Component 1 of the UG Science and Technology Project would support carrying out of a science curriculum reform process by updating existing curricula and/or reorienting the existing curricula of UG aimed to support the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS); and carrying out of selected research relevant to the LCDS through the provision of research grants to selected UG lecturers. The estimated total cost of this Education Quality Improvement Program (EQIP) is US$1.9 million.

Component 2 would support rehabilitation and/or improvement of existing science laboratory buildings of four faculties located within UG; provision of scientific and multimedia equipment to the existing science laboratory buildings; and establishment of a campus wide internet network within UG to connect its faculties and libraries to the internet and to prepare UG to connect to an international link. The total cost of this infrastructure rehabilitation component is estimated to be US$6.2 million.

Component 3 would support building of institutional capacity within UG through the provision of technical assistance on managerial and administrative capacities and strategic business planning matters; and honoraria to selected UG staff for carrying out project tasks. The estimated total cost of this Institutional Capacity Building component is US$1.8 million.

Conditions of effectiveness of the loan includes the execution of the subsidiary agreement on behalf of the recipient, through the Ministry of Education (M0E) and UG; the establishment of a steering committee; the hiring of a project coordinator and at least the procurement specialist and the assistant accountant; and the adoption of the operational manual by government, through the ministry and UG. Manickchand told Stabroek News yesterday that these conditions are being fulfilled. These conditions have to be met 90 days after the date of the agreement, but in no case later than 18 months after the bank’s approval of the agreement.

‘Inadequate resources’
According to the World Bank’s project appraisal document, despite two campuses and its status as the only university in Guyana, inadequate funding has constrained UG’s potential. It noted that tuition fees have not been increased since they were reinstated in 1994 and now with the increased cost of student education, this leaves a significant gap in financing. The document says that student learning is compromised by poorly compensated and under-qualified staff working with inadequate resources. “Low salaries and the poor state of the buildings combined with lack of supplies and support make it difficult to recruit and retain highly qualified staff,” the document stated saying that, for example, a professor, on the highest salary scale among UG academics, earns on average around US$1,600 per month, while a typical lecturer (the bulk of faculty) earns far less.

“There is no financing available for research, the central component for academic career development, in the 4 science and technology faculties: Agriculture and Forestry, Environmental and Earth Sciences, Natural Science, and Technology. Physical facilities lack modern lab equipment, reagents and other essential supplies such as microscopes. Instructors do not have regular access to such basic teaching tools as projectors, and textbooks are in short supply,” the document states. It says that the physical structures of UG are generally well-built, but suffer from lack of maintenance and upkeep.

“This project responds to a request from the Government of Guyana to assist the country in implementing the LCDS by enhancing university capabilities. It would directly support the development of Guyana’s capacity to implement the LCDS and leverage other LCDS-related investments. There is wide agreement that UG faces major challenges, within the context of the Guyanese education system, which require urgent attention. The World Bank can play a strategic and catalytic role through this project by strengthening the capacities of the UG, provide an opportunity for donor co-financing, and establish pathways for institutional engagement,” the document says.

It said that the main project beneficiaries would be the students and professors at the UG. The number of direct beneficiaries from the project is estimated to be 6,300 individuals, including 6,000 students and 300 staff, of which approximately 60 per cent are female. Indirect beneficiaries include private sector employees, local communities, and international researchers engaged in rainforest conservation and biodiversity preservation.

Results indicators would be an increase in student, faculty, and private sector satisfaction with the strength of the four science faculties at UG; new investments in buildings, equipment and ICT maintained in working order; and studies produced by the project are incorporated into UG’s strategic plan.

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