University of Guyana (UG) Vice Chancellor Jacob Opadeyi yesterday “humbly” requested a return to normalcy, even as UG staff held a protest march and announced that their industrial action will continue.
It was not ascertained if Opadeyi’s request had reached the protesting staff yesterday, but in a 3-page press release, outlining what has been done and what was still to be done at UG, he urged negotiation in good faith and respect.
Opadeyi said it took him two weeks after he assumed office to realise that transforming UG was an enormous task. He highlighted the inadequate state of its infrastructure: drainage, sewerage, buildings, laboratories, furniture and other facilities; its over 30-year-old system of governance, policies, examination and admission regulations; level of funding and management of the available funds among others things.
Opadeyi said the staff and students who endure this less than desirable state of affairs: low level of remunerations and the unacceptable state of facilities and teaching materials should be commended for so doing.
However, he added in his statement, “It is a pity that the current industrial impasse is being used to point fingers. No one entity should be blamed for the current state of UG, but the national community as a whole who have sat back and allowed this noble university to suffer from decades of neglect, abandonment, and political grandstanding.”
Noting the need for a national policy on how to fund UG, he said the absence of such a policy has led to a state where accountability, transparency, and due diligence can hardly be demanded.
“Strategic plans, development goals, monitoring and evaluation and score cards will be foreign words to Council and Administration,” the VC stated. Noting that UG had not been called before the parliament to account for its revenue and expenditure, he reasoned that no one would dare to summon the university “when its income cannot meet its expenditure, when its budgets are unrealistic, when there is no financial discipline.”
Quoting a “Chinese adage,” which says “cheap things no good, good things no cheap,” Opadeyi described UG as being in a catch 22 position, with its low level of tuition fees, low level of subvention grants, low level of private sector investment, inadequate facilities and inadequate service delivery.
But he said injecting money into UG to upgrade its infrastructure, build new and modern facilities and improve salaries and benefits, should come with a demand for improvement in quality of service. “…New money,” he said, “will encourage the recruitment and retention of more qualified and student-centred staff… in Guyana and [from] further afield.”
Opadeyi’s statement said the council and administration have not been inactive in the face of the degradation and have initiated special audits, appointed a new Bursar, Chief Accountant and Accountants and purchased new software. He noted that the retirement age of lecturers had been increased from 60 to 65; terms of employment of cleaners upgraded and teaching loads audited to ensure that contractual obligations are met.
Opadeyi referred to the US$10 million World Bank loan for the Science and Technology faculties; “institutionalization of research grants to improve research outputs; institutionalization of facilities fee to support the upgrading of our teaching and learning resources; minimal adjustment of tuition fee to decrease the level of deficit;” and introduction of online degree programmes as other measures that have been taken.
Areas that needed to be worked on, he said, include attracting private sector funding to enhance plants and facilities; improving salaries and improving other buildings.
He also spoke to the need to obtain accreditation for all professional programmes; introduce undergraduate and postgraduate programmes that address the developmental challenges of Guyana; increase enrolment in Science and Technology through scholarships; increase enrolment by attracting out-of-region and foreign students; upgrade and increase on-campus accommodation among other things.
He also made several proposals including for a 25% increase in government subvention; reduction of part-time expenditure and ensuring that lecturers meet their contractual teaching obligations; 1,000 scholarships in the areas of Science and Technology; revision of UG’s electricity rate; duty-free concessions and land and housing loans to certain categories of lecturers; transfer of the student loan scheme to the private sector as a revolving loan and VAT exemptions for university acquisitions.
However, Opadeyi said in his statement, his support for improvement in salaries and benefits comes with the expectation that there would be improvement in efficiency and accountability. He also said there was a need for understanding as regards funding the increases without reverting to the days of huge deficits.
“In investing in staff, we will have to hold them accountable through biannual student assessment, annual quality and productivity assessment and peer review,” the VC said.