Professor Eon Nigel Harris was yesterday officially installed as the ninth Chancellor of the University of Guyana (UG) with government expressing hope that his presence there would see the establishment of a Petroleum Engineering faculty on campus.
“Now with Professor Nigel Harris as Chancellor of the University of Guyana I think that faculty is coming close to home as we now see our dream of becoming an oil and gas producing country, we are seeing the potential on the horizon, that we will in fact become an oil and gas state,” Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who spoke on behalf of government, told attendees at the installation ceremony for Harris yesterday.
The Prime Minister was reflecting on a conversation he had some time ago with Campus Principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine, Professor Clement Sankat, who had told him that Guyana should be cooperating with UWI to open a faculty of Petroleum Engineering in Guyana.
“So it will be a great demand for this university to produce its own force of petroleum, environmental, disaster…intelligentsia that would service the new industry,” Nagamootoo asserted. A former member of the University of Guyana’s council, he reiterated government’s commitment to the development of the tertiary institution, saying that they remain optimistic that the university will overcome its trials and contribute to addressing the country’s socio-economic needs.
Meantime, Professor Harris, who is a former Vice Chancellor of UG, emphasised the need for finances for the institution as he believes that it is a major catalyst for holistic development and transformation.
“We must ensure that urgent, aggressive measures … be taken to implement as many regulations as possible…without appropriate financing the university cannot, I emphasise the word cannot, achieve the transformation necessary to lift our level to serve our country’s future leaders in a rapidly evolving world,” Professor Harris declared even as agreement, signaled by the nodding of heads and applause, emanated, especially from staff in the audience.
Harris informed that the 31-member Task Force that was established to transform the University has also pointed to the need for additional financing for the university.
“The task force realised, however, that the university cannot rely solely on government subvention. The task force recommended an increase in tuition fees over time, making sure that students who could not afford to pay can get access,” he said.
Earlier this year, Harris had emphasised the importance of financing to sustain higher standards at the institution. At the time, he had noted that nowhere in the world is a competitive university financed solely by the government through subventions or grants.
“That alone will not be sufficient to carry the functioning of the institution,” he said, adding that it is necessary therefore for there to be larger involvement and it may require “government making policy changes to enable access to funding or them having conversations with international agencies.” He stressed too that the private sector, which benefits from the university, will be expected to play a role as will civil society and the diaspora.
Yesterday, the new Chancellor listed measures recommended by the task force and emphasised the need to also mobilise society in an endeavour to do something about the financing and to sustain that effort.
“A contribution from the lotto fund, enhancement of corporate philanthropy and tax rebates for corporations that contribute, building relationships with foreign universities so that they may be able to access funding opportunities from international donors, a contribution of $1USD to all outgoing and incoming passengers,” he suggested.
Several well-wishers including Pro Chancellor and People’s Progressive Party executive Bibi Shadick, the Chancellors of UWI’s Mona and Cave Hill campuses as well as the University of Guyana Students Society brought greetings to a man they described as experienced, brilliant honourable, illustrious and fair.
Greetings also poured in for Harris from many international universities and colleges.
Harris related that it was Minister of Education Dr Rupert Roopnaraine who had asked him to take up the post, saying that while he had envisioned his retirement from UWI to be spent in his St Lucia home “relaxing on the verandah,” he just could not refuse. This is so because he believes that not only is it an honour for him to serve the land of his birth in the capacity of Chancellor but it is his way of giving back to the country he benefitted from in his early years.
Harris has held many leadership positions, including his most recent post as Vice-Chancellor of the University of West Indies (October 1, 2004 to April 30, 2015); President of the Association of Caribbean Universities and Research Institutes (UNICA) from 2012 to 2015, and Chair-man of the Association of Commonwealth Universities for a two-year term (2011-2013). He is internationally known for his work as a Rheumatologist