There is no silver bullet for the problems of UG

Dear Editor,

The present impasse at UG has it’s genesis in the consistent failure of the current government to address problems that have existed before, or that have emerged since 1993. The most recent example of persistent myopia is the government’s response to the 2012 Hamilton Report – the CDB funded review of UG’s Acts and Statutes. As a visiting faculty member at UG, I had the opportunity to follow the review process and comment on the findings and recommendations during the two-year study. I will summarize the comments I offered in response to the Hamilton report.

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 met and exceeded what could be expected given their TOR, and this is 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 led logically to their 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 among them. 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 limited human, physical, and financial resources through partnerships is also notable, as is the variety of financial opportunities available to the institution for its development. 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 continuous personal and professional development for its faculty and staff.

Given their progress to date, we can and should expect (after feedback from the stakeholders and reassessment) there will a high level of coherence between their final recommendations for transforming the institution and their suggested revisions of the University of Guyana’s Acts and Statutes. However, I have some concerns about the process, findings and recommendations.

A list of the concerns identified and discussed, were 1) the limited list of stakeholders provided an opportunity to read and contribute to the report; 2) the limited reference in the reports to the university’s strategic plans, the quality enhancement initiative, the dossier prepared by the three university organizations and shared with parliamentary representatives from the three parties; 3) institutional autonomy was identified by the consultants as a major imperative, but not well developed in the documents; 4) the consultants’ ambivalence with respect to the separation of the roles and responsibilities of groups and individuals at all levels of the proposed (re-)organization; 5) the importance of research in Guyana and the limited contributions UG has made; 6) the exhaustive list of potential sources of university funding missed a very important opportunity to present one of the most effective mechanisms, land grants, and connect with two other streams of funds; and 7) the rationalization of the university was not explicitly addressed.

Since the delivery of the final report to the government by the consultants, there has been little debate. The government has not addressed the relevant recommendations. In essence, the initiative to reorganize and refocus the University of Guyana was aborted. The National Development and Low Carbon Strategies have suffered a similar fate – significant time, effort, and resources were devoted to drafting a comprehensive proposal but there has been inadequate/non-existent delivery on objectives or goals by the government.

The current problems of UG are not just poor pay, disgusting toilet facilities, or inefficient staff as expounded upon in the media. The problems are complex and interrelated. There is no silver bullet, no piecemeal solution, no single simple way to solving these problems. What has worked most often is deliberation, followed by deliberate actions. UG’s imbroglio like other institutional and sectoral (security, transportation, education, health, industrial) problems in Guyana are becoming intractable. And will continue to be so. That is, unless the nation develops the leadership and personnel with the capacity to solve these types of complex problems. In developed and quickly developing countries, universities have been the training ground for people to lead and maintain their growth.

Maybe the legacy of the first 30 years of UG is the production of a leadership incapable of systematically addressing national issues over the past 20 years. Yes, UG staff and alumni/alumnae, the parties in power, the private sector, etc, can all share in the blame. There is a lot of blame and shame to be shared around. But, shaming and blaming is just gaming. If there is genuine interest in addressing the contemporary intellectual and institutional deficiencies, Guyanese have to unite in support of critical institutions, such as universities, for us to have any chance of making and keeping the country and its people globally competitive. A serious university is needed to address the skill gaps that have undermined the effective management of the country’s resources, its infrastructure, and its governance. As I have often heard, “A suh UG guh, a suh Guyana guh.”

 Yours faithfully,

Rory Fraser

Professor (rtd)

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