UG’s Road Map: Are we missing the way?

By Rory Fraser, PhD

Professor of Forest Economics and Policy,
Alabama A&M University

Rory Fraser has spent most of the last 40 years in
academic institutions in the United Kingdom, Canada,
USA, Jamaica, and Guyana.

in the diasporaOver the past two years, a considerable amount of time and effort have been invested in the US$250,000 consultancy (funded by the Caribbean Development Bank and Government of Guyana) to provide an implementable “road map” to improve effectiveness, quality standards, and fiscal soundness in accordance with the University of Guyana’s Mission. The consultants Hamilton and Associates have recommended a 5-year US$70 million upgrading and expansion programme to improve the learning and teaching environment and give access to 10,000 students. To date, there is very little evidence of any movement on the recommendations. In fact, there seems to be very little discussion of this report and one is left to wonder if this document is not sharing the same fate as two similar but less exhaustive documents (the 1996 Presidential Commission on University of Guyana and the 2008-2012 Strategic Plan) – an extremely marginal implementation rate. Recent dialogue in the media and the tit-for-tat exchange between the major political parties [on the demise/improvements in the educational outcomes, the paucity/availability of jobs/qualified employees, the importation of (un)skilled labour in construction/electricity installation/mining/sugar!!!, and the implications of staffing relatively enormous high technology industries such as off-shore petroleum and hydroelectric power facilities] would suggest that this is no trivial matter in Guyana.

I will agree with the detractors who suggest that UG is archaic. I will even agree with those who contend that its graduates are not well prepared to address the special problems of Guyana. I will even go further and agree that most of the faculty and staff are not well prepared themselves to lead the institution and its students into the 21st Century. However, what I will not concede to any of these detractors is the view that Guyanese lack the capacity to turn this institution around and make it one of the most relevant and significant cogs in preparing Guyanese and Guyana to manage our abundant wealth. That is why I contend every Guyanese who has interest in arguing the case for transforming UG needs to engage the consultant’s document with a view to discerning what can and should be done for the institution. To whet your appetite I will summarise its content. For those interested in the full document, I suggest you request a copy from the university; it should be a publicly available document.

The consultants presented a 10 chapter document which provided a review of UG’s: earlier initiatives; operational and mission alignment; structures, systems, procedures and processes; budgeting and finances; facilities; resource mobilization; unitization and harmonization of practices between campuses; change management; and implementation plan. In their assessment, based on established criteria, they disclosed as follows:

1. Operationally UG is: only marginally achieving its mission of delivering programmes in strategic skills for Guyana and being the catalyst in expanding enrolment in tertiary education; excellent in affordability, but marginal in increasing Guyana’s economic competitiveness; and somewhat efficient in the use of scarce resources. However, they recognized that while UG’s Act and legal underpinning are not dissimilar to other regional universities, they have not benefitted from updates such as those proposed in prior studies (1996 and 2008).

2. UG’s structures, processes, and procedures need to be enhanced, specifically: improved institutional governance at the level of the Council; greater autonomy for the Academic Board; rationalization of the number of academic units; realignment and re-designation of the responsibilities of senior administrators; installation of a quality assurance system; a complete overhaul of the human resources administration; significant revision of pedagogy, research, and service delivery as well as their associated support services; and improved management of admissions and examinations.

3. UG’s budgeting and financing have to be refocused, recalibrated, and re-equipped; i.e. guided by strategic plans, increased revenue generation, and realistic budgets; managed and monitored by up-to-date specialized (tertiary education) management information systems; and appropriate oversight.

4. UG’s facilities are under sound management; however, it is woefully underfunded; needs significant major capital development to enable and expand appropriate teaching and research; and lacks planned systemic maintenance.

5. UG’s gravest impediment is the lack of resource mobilization to maintain fiscal viability and allow for development. Twelve (12) potential resource opportunities identified, including: rationalization of programmes, classes, and fees; restructuring offerings; outsourcing activities; increasing offerings; providing commercial services; solicitations; and internal efficiencies.

6. UG needs to develop an internally consistent mechanism for dealing with its major academic units, especially the Berbice campus, so it can function seamlessly. There are suggestions on four types of possible autonomies – full, delegated, centralized, and collaborative authorities. There was no compelling justification for making the Berbice campus a stand-alone unit.

7. UG’s change management strategy has to be very careful, thoughtful and sensitive. The environment for change is very fragile and there is a very high likelihood of resistance given the long history of stagnation and mistrust. A transformation process was suggested and the partners in change were identified.
8. UG’s implementation of the changes requires three elements: specific activities, a timetable, and a budget for each activity.

The consultants made 29 recommendations, based on this assessment, including: restructuring the Council, the executive body and units consistent with contemporary institutions; establishing and maintaining standard operating practices in governance, and operations, financial and academic management; increasing efficiency – operate year-round, rationalize programmes and major academic units, reduce matriculation to 3-years[2] by outsourcing foundation courses to other tertiary institutions; offer associate degree programmes; reorganizing and refocusing the human resources department; increasing enrollment to 10,000 in 5-years; and US$70 million over five years for upgrading the campus and preparing it for a larger influx of students.

Now, while I commend the effort of the consultants there are some pieces still missing. The following are two excerpts from my 9/12/2012 response to the document.

“The consultants were obviously well briefed about the country’s premier tertiary educational institution and demonstrated a very sound knowledge and understanding of the university’s conception, evolution, current status, and relevance to Guyana’s development. From the inception, they developed a structured approach to this project and laid out a very robust process for data gathering, analyses, dissemination, feedback, reassessment, and final presentation of their findings and recommendations. To date, they have done an excellent job on the first three elements. In fact, they have met and exceeded what could be expected given their TOR, and this is to be commended. They recognized from the onset that a contemporary university’s Acts and Statutes have to be capable of accommodating the legal, financial, social, physical, political, and organizational complexities of a modern higher education institution. They began by identifying: 18 realities of the university, a number of emerging possibilities, and 10 imperatives for transforming the university. Their analyses flowed through this prism and lead logically to their current recommendations. I was especially encouraged by their recognition of the interconnectedness of the tertiary institutions and the opportunities to improve efficiency and enhance effectiveness through articulation agreements. Their embrace of more contemporary, holistic approaches to national human capacity development is highly commendable. Their recognition and promotion of the multitude of opportunities for leveraging the university’s meager human, physical, and financial resources through partnerships is also notable, as is the variety of financial opportunities available to the institution. Their most compelling recommendations for change are those addressing Human Resources issues. They recognize that the University of Guyana is only going to be as good as the people it hires and retains. This requires significant revisions in salaries, terms and conditions of work, and opportunities for personal and professional development.”

“There is some reference in the reports to the university’s strategic plans and the quality enhancement initiative but little or passing reference to: the review of the strategic plan, the dossier prepared by the three university unions and shared with parliamentary representatives from the three parties; the recent World Bank documents including the project they approved for funding; the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), UG’s response, and the International Centre for Biodiversity (ICBR) explicitly mentioned in the strategy; and the MOU’s entered into with agencies and other institutions. These documents are relevant in that they represent the university’s own analyses, recommendations, and initiatives to address their current and future condition. To ignore these items is to encourage the view that the there is scant regard for the efforts or opinions of the university community. As important, there are some plans, initiatives and agreements underway which inevitably will have impacts on how the university is organized and funded in the future e.g. WB’s $10 million loan for curricula reform, infrastructural improvement; and capacity building; the Campus Master Plan developed in the strategic planning process; the MOU with GGMC; or arrangements with Ministry of Health. These arrangements also test the limits of the university’s Acts and Statutes with respect to financial, administrative, and academic relationships between UG and Ministries (of Education / Finance / Natural Resources / Health), agencies (both international and local), and the Government of Guyana (with respect to ownership and disposition of the university’s land, buildings, equipment, etc).

Institutional autonomy (the right or condition of self-government) and academic freedom (the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint; or absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government) have been identified by the consultants as major imperatives. But, these elements are not well developed in the documents. The consultants seem to drift from dependence (on public funds and thereby Government of Guyana benevolence) to self-determination (in selection of governing Council) and in turn from government directives (national policy dictating curricula and research agenda) to freedom of expression. … Thus, they seem to vacillate between whether the university should: remain a public institution, transition to a public-private institution, or become a corporate entity. This is not the consultant’s call, and they may have an opinion, but this identity issue must be explicitly addressed in developing their recommended changes to the Acts and Statutes.”

In October 2012, I asked five questions which are still relevant today.

1. Should UG’s Council be drawn from stakeholders or should it be populated by those who bring financial, legal, academic, business, international, perspectives to the institution?

2. Should UG’s Council be as large as it currently is? Are the current requirements for the quorum appropriate for maintaining accountability and transparency? Should there be term limits and staggered appointments to the Council?

3. How can UG integrate the WB project, the LCDS funding, and prior work on the ICBR and the Campus Master Plan in the funding and transformation plans?

4. How will the UG regulatory framework ensure due diligence with regard to institutional autonomy, academic freedom and academic integrity, and a commitment to a non-discriminatory culture of governance and management?

5. Is it possible for UG to be supported in addressing national human capacity development needs through allocation of the nation’s primary assets i.e. land and its associated resources?

Some of these questions have to be answered in Parliament, some by the Government of Guyana, and some internally in the institution. However, until these fundamental questions are addressed UG will continue along the road to (dare I say it) academic oblivion/perdition.

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