Guyana must not allow its only institution of higher learning to fail

Dear Editor,

More Guyanese need to be aware of, and understand the critically important role that is expected of our only national university in the cultural, economic, industrial, political and social development of Guyana, and why Guyana as a young developing nation must not allow our only institution of higher learning to fail. When the University of Guyana (UG) was established in 1963, three years before Independence, it was the intention of the founders that the institution would fulfil the following four stated purposes:

1) To provide a place of education, learning and research of a standard required and expected of a university of the highest standard and to secure the advancement of knowledge and the diffusion and extension of arts and sciences and learning throughout Guyana

2) To become a centre for the training and educating of a large number of Guyanese who would undertake research into the many problems which confronted the Guyanese nation

3) To produce highly qualified personnel for the public service, teachers for the schools, scientists, technologists, and technicians for the National Programme of Industrial and Agricultural Develop-ment.

4) To provide a focus for the intellectual life of the community and a place where the merit of particular solutions to Guyana’s problems may be tested by argument and experiment (University of Guyana, 1965, p 3-8).

To its credit, UG was able to meet the demand for specific middle-level skills to take over various administrative posts in the immediate post-independence era. However, since then the need has been for highly qualified manpower – creative and innovative leaders and researchers, particularly in the field of agriculture and education, capable of contributing to the economic and social development of Guyana. In this regard the university has not lived up to expectations and its contribution has been increasingly sparse. Over the past four decades there has been a widening disconnect between the university’s outcomes and the needs that exist within its environment. Several reasons could be cited for UG’s mediocre performance over past decades, but for the present the following will suffice, namely, the lack of understanding of the developmental role of higher education in a poor country, as a result of which UG has been severely underfunded since its inception.

Understanding the developmental role of higher education in a poor country is not an optional matter, it is an imperative. It is required if education is to achieve its great expectations. In hindsight we may conclude that our expenditure at the tertiary level of education has not been big enough. If the university cannot compete successfully in the national, regional or international marketplace for scarce and highly qualified manpower, it will not be able to attract highly qualified staff that would enable it to fulfil its obligations to Guyanese society. It is universally accepted that the quality of education in schools can be no better than the quality of the teachers in the classrooms. Great teachers inspire students! In like manner the quality of university outcomes in teaching, research and public service can be no better than the quality of the members of the various faculties.

Solutions to the many problems that confront the University of Guyana rest with the collective will of the Guyanese society. It is expected that some tough decisions will have to be made. The University of Guyana must also hasten to improve its image and earn the support of the Guyanese public. By this time the Guyanese public should have been able to discern indicators of the second genesis of the institution. But it has become apparent that there is a serious disconnect between the leadership styles and institutional needs at this stage of UG’s development. If we allow our only university to fail it will at best remain a poorly supported anachronism. At worst it will be destroyed, and Guyanese will remain at the mercy of many more charlatans, unscrupulous fly-by-night contractors, and barber-shop type corporations whose main purpose would be to either rob us of our patrimony or to make off with taxpayers’ money from the national treasury.

If we raise our collective voices and do whatever else is necessary to rescue and support our university it will become one of the most important agencies of the nation – equal to but very different from government, the military, industry or agriculture, but of essential importance to all of them and to the wider Guyanese society.

A vibrant University of Guyana would do for this nation what no other university can or will do. Help rescue the University of Guyana, the apex of Guyana’s education system, for as the University of Guyana goes so go our schools. And, as our schools which contain the seeds of our future go, so too will the Guyanese nation.

 Yours faithfully,

Clarence O Perry

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