The University of Guyana (UG) must open up itself to the wider society to help students become rounded, if it is to become the university it aspires to be, Vice Chancellor (VC) Professor Jacob Opadeyi said yesterday at an interfaith service that was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the university’s ordinance.
Professor Opadeyi made the comment as he spoke about ways to move the university in the direction it needs to go.
He said that in order for stakeholders to make UG how they want it to be, they must not depend on government alone but encourage the international community to come on board and teach students how to sing, debate and swim, among other things, to make them rounded. The rest, he said, will be left to them.
“…If we are to make UG the university we want it to be, we need happy staff, happy students and good infrastructure. All of that means no money…,”he said, triggering loud laughter in the audience.
The service, which was held at the Turkeyen Campus, was filled with spiritual tributes through songs, prayers, excerpts read by well-wishers and inspirational words by members of the religious community, the university and the government. A brief history of the university was also read to those in attendance
Speaking about his plans to take UG forward, the VC said he wants to open up the university so people can visit and relax.
“People can come in the evening and just relax and do nothing. They don’t have to have identification cards because it is a national asset,” he said.
“I challenge the government: Why do you put the national aquatic infrastructure [the National Aquatic Centre at Liliendaal] away from UG? Put it inside of UG!” he urged.
Professor Opadeyi also stated that the infrastructure of the university cannot be allowed to decay because it is the national university and a poor university is better than no university. He also said that when he accepted the job as VC, he did it with pride and honour only to know that it is a challenge. But he added that “if you know my history, this challenge is a piece of cake for me… piece of cake.”
He also took the opportunity to thank those who kept UG alive for the past 50 years despite the amount of “bad talking,” He said “the amount of stone they throw at them [his staff] and they never jump the ship and leave.”
Meanwhile, the Chair of UG 50th Anniversary Planning Committee, Dr Poloma Mohammed told the gathering that the occasion was an “auspicious” one, since it is not every day that a national institution turns 50.
“In fact the vast majority of institutions may not last this long. The fact that this University predates even Guyana’s Independence should not escape us,” Mohammed said, while noting that UG is no ordinary place and its anniversary should be seen as its golden jubilee.
Mohammed disclosed that a select Committee has been formed to carry forward the work of consultative and inclusive planning and coordination of a 21 month calendar of events beginning this month.
The anniversary is seen as an opportunity to “demonstrate and document the output and value of the UG over the 50 years, galvanise widespread support for the university through setting up of or refining various institutional mechanisms which can accommodate this over the short and long term… raise at least G$500M (US$2.5M)for a UG endowment fund which will be used to fund some of the pressing needs for expansion at the university and reimage, revision and reposition the university as a top notch national university with national and international relevance, standards, reach and importance,” she said.
Several sub-committees have been formed and have been working over the past year to ensure that these objectives are met within the 21-month period, Mohammed added.
Minister of Public Service Dr Jennifer Westford, who spoke in the absence of President Donald Ramotar, said that UG has produced many intellectuals, including her, while noting that the government is making education a top priority.
Westford also said that although UG is still in its adolescent stage of development, it is more importantly a great public trust dedicated to education and the expansion of knowledge, among other benefits. She said “perhaps the best way to describe what is so special about the UG is the high expectations that teachers and students have for one another….”
Emeritus Professor, Sister Mary Noel Menezes, who was among the first batch of lecturers at the university, gave a brief history of the university, which was established on October 1, 1963 with a temporary campus at Queens College (QC).
During that time, classes were held at QC from 5 in the evenings and going straight into the night. But Bookers came on board and donated 1,450 acres of land at Turkeyen for the construction of the campus. In its initial stage, courses were only taught in the arts and sciences but as the university matured, it began to offer programmes in the social sciences, technology and environmental sciences, among others. The university was also granted United Kingdom approval in 1969 and in 1985, the training of medical practitioners began.