The University of Guyana and the business community

Based on what he had to say on the issue during a recent lengthy interview for a forthcoming issue of the Guyana Review, it is clear that University of Guyana (UG) Vice Chancellor Professor Ivelaw Griffith believes that the future of the university will be heavily dependent on the quality of the relationship that it can cultivate with the private sector.

This is not surprising given his international background in key university positions in the United States and elsewhere. Professor Griffith understands only too well the symbiotic relationship the informs interaction between universities and the business community in First World countries and his focus on building such a partnership here in Guyana would be driven pretty much by his knowledge of successful outcomes elsewhere.

It has to be said that the desirability of strong ties between UG and the local business community did not begin with Professor Griffith’s advocacy. The idea has evolved in fits and starts and one can think of instances of grand plans and grandiose gatherings, which, once they would have gotten past the stage of rhetoric, have simply fizzed out. This is not to say that some have not met with a measure of success. There are examples in the telecommunications, technology and other sectors, of protracted and useful, indeed successful relationship between UG and the private sector though the overall UG/business community relationship has come nowhere near to that level of success.

One of the views that appear to inform Professor Griffith’s perspective on the fortunes of UG has to do with the fact that it has, for years, had to endure the dead hand of politics and there is no reason to believe that this does not extend to the lack of any comprehensive success in the realm of UG/private sector relations. Here, in probing the likely reasons for the underdevelopment of the relationship, Professor Griffith makes a number of interesting points, not all of which can be ventilated here; one, however, which has to do with the quality of the relationship, is eminently deserving of mention.

On the whole, the various UG/private sector relationships that exist are mostly informed by the phenomenon of giving on the part of the private sector and receiving on the part of the university. If it may be unkind to describe this type of relationship as parasitic, Professor Griffith makes no secret of his belief that UG has to prove itself deserving of what is, in effect, the private sector’s investment in its growth and development. Here, he makes the point, and candidly, that whereas the private sector has been crying out for skilled UG graduates in a number of disciplines, UG has been ‘coming up short’ for some years now in terms of some of the skills that it has been sending to the private sector.  “We have to give them reason to be confident that when they give they will see a changed output,” is what Professor Griffith said during the interview. In other words, the support of the business community for the University of Guyana cannot be a matter of authenticity.

More than that, and since there is an expectation that UG will help provide the skills to make the business community what we commonly describe as ‘the engine of growth,’ Professor Griffith wants the private sector to be involved in curriculum building; hence private sector support for the Turkeyen/Tain talks and the various other initiatives that seek the participation of the business community in helping to fashion aspects of curriculum specialization linked to their own interests.

Perhaps the advantage that the Griffith initiative has over its predecessors is that it presses into service external skills and experiences that can mobilize the resources necessary to undertake the journey towards a raising of its standards though the point that he leaves with us is that nothing is promised to UG and that if it is to secure the invaluable support which the business community can clearly give, it must earn that support.

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