A brief history of the University of Guyana

Presented at the Interfaith Service to mark the 50th Anniversary of the passing of the University of Guyana Ordinance #63, April 19, 1963 In the George Walcott Lecture Theatre (GWLT), Turkeyen Campus on April 19, 2013

By Sr Mary Noel Menezes,

RSM, AA edited and adapted

for this Publication.

It is indeed an honour for me to have been asked to share with you a brief history of our University now celebrating its 50th year. Where has the time gone? I was among the first group of lecturers and so vividly remember our first convocation in 1967 at which 32 students, 28 men and 4 women, received their degrees. The guest speaker Professor Anamanthudoo expressed the fervent wish that the University would live up to the highest standards if it were to be worth the name of University. To quote his words: “To have a University is not enough – it must be a University of high standard. A University of low standard is worse than having no University at all.” We continue to support his wish over the years.

Why the need for a university in Guyana?

Over the years, our young people had left our shores to study in Canada, the UK, the USA, and the West Indies and many never returned home. More and more, therefore, the need for an institution of higher learning to train teachers and other personnel in the education system became acute. In Feb. 1963 a “Memorandum on Higher Education” was presented in the Legislative Council by the then Min. of Education and Social Development, Hon. Cedric Nunes. Among other needs, it was noted that of the 500 secondary school teacher population only 144 were suitably qualified. The need for a university was indeed vital and critical. In that institution, personnel for the civil

Sr Mary Noel Menezes

service, teachers for the education system, and programmes of industrial, agriculture and social development would be the main focus”. Above all, active research was vital to stimulate the intellectual life of the society. The plan was much debated but finally the University of Guyana Ordinance was passed on April 19, 50 years ago.

Early Years

The University’s first Chancellor, Mr Edgar Mortimer Duke, GBE, LLB and Board of Governors decided that the new institution would offer undergraduate courses in the Faculties of Arts, Natural and Social Sciences at the modest fee of $100.00 per annum. Financially speaking it was impossible at the time to build a Campus so in the interim classes would be held at Queen’s College from 4pm to 10:30pm after their students had left thus, in those early years, the University was scathingly referred to as “Jagan’s Night School”. I can assure you of the difficulty of those early days when lecturers had to be on the spot to ensure getting a classroom before another colleague had bagged it. But despite the inconveniences in those early years, there was “a pioneer gaiety” – a spirit of camaraderie and sharing among staff and students. Professor Bill Carr realistically captured the nostalgia of the Queen’s College days “with its stairs and rooms smelling of boys, stale buns, spilt sweet drinks and assorted vermin” – indeed an atmosphere not wholly conducive to learning.

UG’s Inauguration

The UG Campus, Turkeyen

The University opened on October 1, 1963 with 164 students. The multi-talented Welshman, Professor Lancelot Hogben, was the first Vice-Chancellor; the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Biology, our Guyanese Dr Harold Drayton while another Guyanese, Dr Lyttleton Ramsahoye, Professor of Physics, young Neville Trotz, part-time lecturer in Chemistry, Dr Bancroft Davis, Professor of Economics, Mr MacGilvary, Caribbean Studies and History Department and Yvonne Stephenson who would later become Head of the University Library, giving years of service.

The ceremony heralding the opening of classes was an impressive one, so much so that it moved the Booker Group of Companies to donate 56 hectares of land at Turkeyen where we now are, for the permanent site of the University. From far and wide came donations of books for the library, topped by the generous gift of 1800 titles from the British Council in Guyana. The Library is the hub of every University. A University can more survive without lecturers than without a library.

The University in its earliest years was blessed with outstanding administrators: Professor Arthur Lewis, Chancellor, former CARICOM Chief Executive, William Demas, Commonwealth Secretary-General, Sir Shridath Ramphal, Pro-Chancellors, Sir John Carter and Harold Davis. The Vice-Chancellors over the years included Prof. Alan Earp, Dr Dennis Irvine, Dr George Walcott, the first Guyanese, succeeded by other Guyanese, Dennis Craig, Harold Lutchman and James Rose. Were I to note all the exceptional Heads of Departments and lecturers these pages would not suffice.

1969 was an historic year

It was the year of the first Open Entrance Exam with about 400 students writing the exam; the year when UG was granted UK approval, the year of many visiting scholars, the year of many newcomers on staff, the year of the arrival of Dr Dennis Irvine, one of our most notable VC, the year of UG at its present site at Turkeyen with its enrollment of approximately 1000 students. On October 6, the Large Lecture Theatre was inaugurated. Classes and classrooms overflowed and already the new buildings were inadequate.

Students at a University of Guyana graduation ceremony.

Over the years the University has grown and the burgeoning of many faculties added to its remarkable growth – the Faculty of Arts then included the Departments of history, English, Modern Languages, Geography, Division of Caribbean Studies, Creative Arts as well as an Amerindian Research Unit. In 1972, Tourism Studies was added. In 1973, the History Department launched the first graduate programme – MA in the History of Guyana and Caribbean Studies which over the years have produced many leading historians, not only in Guyana but overseas. These include Basdeo Mangru, Khalill Mohamed, Tota Mangar, former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, David Chanderballi, former Registrar of UG and Dr James Rose, former VC. Among other noteworthy historians are His Excellency David Granger, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Hon. Carl Singh, Acting Chancellor of Guyana, and the late Desrey Fox, MP.

 Faculties and Course Offerings

The Faculty of Education, established in 1967, offered a Post Graduate Diploma in Education, then in 1975 a Bachelor of Education followed by a Master’s in 1976. In that year also a Department of Extra Mural Studies, later upgraded to an Institute of Adult and Continuing Education.

In August 1996 the Institute was renamed the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education as it provided courses for students in Linden, Berbice and Essequibo. In 1981, the Department of Health Sciences became the Faculty of Health Sciences offering a wide variety of diploma programmes. In 1985, it began the training of Medical Practitioners. In September 2003, the Faculties of Arts and Education were merged into the School of Education and Humanities.

In 1976 and 1977 the Faculty of Natural Sciences offered Graduate Degrees in Biology and Chemistry; in 1994 Environment Studies was established. The Faculty of Social Sciences has been considered as the most dynamic Faculty in the University. In 1970 the first year programme leading to a UWI Law Degree was started and in 1993 a full Law Degree programme was offered; in 1977 and 1978 Graduate programmes in Economics and Political Science were introduced while in 1987 a Women’s Study Unit.

In 1969 the Faculty of Technology was started offering Diplomas in Architecture and Building Technology and Civil Engineering. Later the programme expanded to accommodate studies in Agricultural Engineering, Mining and Surveying and Aeronautical Engineering. It became obvious that, in a country where the economy is predominantly agricultural, a programme in agriculture was a necessity and in 1977 the Faculty of Agriculture was established. In 1987 the Forestry Unit was started and in 2002 the Faculty was renamed the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry. More programmes were added in the 2000s – in 2002-03 the Degree in Nursing and Diploma in Aeronautical Engineering.

Not only at Turkeyen was the University expanding its programmes. In November 2000 a second campus was opened at Tain, Berbice, offering programmes in a variety of fields in the Arts and Sciences. It is obvious that over the past 50 years the University has grown rapidly, has expanded, catering to the wide needs of students who have served the country at every level of expertise and in every field and also who have made a name for themselves overseas.

“Ups” and “Downs”

Over the past 10 years UG has faced a number of problems. UG has been mainly underfunded. The students first paid G$100.00 per annum and now $127,000 per annum. It has been increasingly difficult to maintain the Library, the laboratories and the many needs of the faculties. The concern over political involvement together with poor remuneration resulted in the loss of excellent academic staff. With the financial help of the IDB between 1989 and 1993 a number of new buildings were erected – the Herbarium, the Department of Law and Management, the Faculty of Agriculture and a Computer and Learning Resource Centre, the Centre for Information and Technology and the Cheddi B Jagan Lecture Rooms. Two students’ dormitories were constructed on campus in the 1990s and one at Goedverwagting – the Dennis Irvine Hall of Residence.

Endeavour to Succeed

As we ponder on the accomplishments of the students, more than over 20,000 have graduated over these 50 years. Above all, we must thank God for his support and guidance. At the same time we must express heartfelt gratitude to all members of the Administration and Staff, both academic and clerical, who gave of their best, of their expertise to guide the University. The task has not been an easy one – as those of us who were privileged to be with the University in its early years of trial and error, will recall. But we must always remember that nothing worthwhile, be it in our spiritual, academic and material lives can ever be accomplished without dedication to the task, hard work and an unwavering assurance that success will be the outcome. To the Administration, staff and students, my warmest congratulations. May you continue to experience continuing success in every field and so make your country and your University proud of you. Ad multos annos! God bless you all.

Sistery Mary Noel Menezes, RSM, AA, Religious Training (Mercy Noviate, Dallas, 1950), Teachers’ Diploma (St Joseph Col., Jamaica, 1954), BA (Misericordia, 1964), MA (Georgetown, 1965), PhD (UCL, 1973).

Sister Menezes had an association with the University of Guyana which has been universally acknowledged as a shining example of scholarship, dedication and commitment to the achievement of excellence. This association has two periods: 1967-1991, and in 2003-2004 after her retirement.             Dr Menezes was elevated to a full personal Professorship at the University of Guyana in 1980, was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the College Miscericordia in 1983, and decorated by the Goverment of Guyana with the Golden Arrow of Achievement Award in 1982



Around the Web