The question has been asked why the staff at the University of Guyana is asking for a 60% increase. No, it is not because we are selfish, greedy or opportunistic. It is simply a matter of the future of the country’s highest tertiary institution which cannot exist without competent and qualified staff.
The number one problem affecting the quality and effective functioning of the University of Guyana is the inability to attract and retain qualified faculty and staff. This inability is directly tied to the remuneration offered, particularly for academic staff. Former Vice Chancellor Professor Lawrence Carrington remarked at his farewell address to the staff in January 2012 that:
“The elephant in the room is the matter of staff salaries … [UG’s] planning has to shift the matter of emoluments to the top of the agenda … Beyond dealing with the physical environment and the overall governance provisions, we must also address the quality of our staff and how we provide for them to be effective and efficient. That involves interlocking factors such as the competitiveness of the university’s salaries and benefits, the terms and conditions of service, the confidence that staff can have in the fairness of appraisal, the systems of incentives, rewards and recognition.”
In many disciplines, graduates entering both the public and private sectors immediately after graduating earn more than the average monthly wages of their university lecturers. This indicates a much higher remuneration for equally or less skilled and experienced workers. Further, when compared to the salaries and emoluments offered at regional institutions which compete for similar skill sets, UG unquestionably pays the lowest salary out of the three UWI campuses and Anton De Kom in Suriname, notwithstanding the similar cost of living and consumer prices in the campus countries. An individual currently entering the University of Guyana with a PhD at the Lecturer II level would be paid a starting salary of G$165,058- which is equivalent to US$797. The corresponding starting salary in 2011 for UWI Cave Hill, UWI St Augustine and UWI Mona are US$4,775, US$3,506 and US$2,066 respectively. Salaries at all three campuses have since been increased significantly. Not surprisingly there continues to be a rapid turnover of staff at UG.
Within such circumstances of poor remuneration, it is impossible for the UG to attract and retain sufficient academics of stature necessary to ensure quality. The diminishing levels of highly trained university staff have implications for the credibility, reputation and accreditation of the institution. The university is now forced to rely overwhelmingly on holders of first and second degrees, and there is marked lack of interest from qualified individuals to accept full-time appointments.
If the University of Guyana fails to offer attractive remuneration comparable to universities in the region, the University of Guyana will continue to under-perform and deteriorate. The unions had proposed a 200% increase in salary in May 2012 in order to achieve parity with Anton de Kom, the lowest paying of the regional tertiary institutions. This proposal was also based on the Trevor Hamilton Report prepared on behalf of the contracting agency, University of Guyana. We further proposed that this be paid over a three to five year period. The unions were ignored. As the administrators dithered, several more of the already few PhD lecturers left. Every study done on the University of Guyana done over the past decade has made one thing clear – it is necessary to immediately increase the salary of academic staff in order to attract qualified staff and retain those who are currently there.
I have been to many universities and I know the educational experience students have at those institutions and what is possible for our students. To be sure, I am absolutely fighting for me and, by extension, my family. We are entitled to live a decent life. And so does every staff member at UG; so we fight together. But I am also fighting to get students – both now and in the future – the education they deserve.
Ultimately, as a nation, we have to decide if we want a university or a community college. We have to decide whether we want our national university to be the moulding ground for leaders in every discipline who can transform this country into one we all can feel a part of. That is only possible through the substantial and sustained support of the University of Guyana, its staff and students.
University of Guyana Senior Staff Association