UG cannot at this time be all things to all people

Dear Editor,

Both the 3rd to last and the 2nd to last paragraphs of SN’s editorial of April 7, 2017, recaptured similar conclusions arrived at some thirty odd years ago in a major comprehensive study: “The Organizational Effective-ness of the University of Guyana: A Case Study of an Emerging University in a National Development Context” (Perry,C.O.,1985.).

The study suggested that the urgent decision for the university of a poor country like Guyana was whether it should continue to try to achieve comprehensiveness and thus perpetuate weakness and mediocrity, or whether it should leave much to an enhanced secondary level and concentrate on a few areas of strength thus ensuring good institutional health and permitting the university to define its own strong future.     Further, it suggested that the task of identifying and solving the developmental problems of Guyana should be at the centre of the university’s work.

The University of Guyana (UG) is a good example of a weak version of a traditional Western liberal university, a modified English model with academic departments based on single disciplines, in spite of the fact that Guyana’s development problems require a multidisciplinary approach for solution.    Undoubtedly, UG was an important and relevant institution in its early days when Guyana needed specific middle level skills in the immediate post-independence era.    But that requirement has been fulfilled.

In its present state the university is incapable of meeting the needs of Guyana in terms of highly qualified manpower generally and specifically in the fields of agriculture, education, health and mining.    As far back as 1982 the Ministry of Agriculture reported that there were 200 vacancies for university trained professionals, 25 percent of which required professionals with postgraduate training.     I would venture to say that the situation is now infinitely worse.

In February 2016, I participated in the deliberations of a Task Force charged with the “Transformation of the University of Guyana”.    From my observations there seemed to be a great reluctance on the part of key decision-makers to take risks, and to recognize that a restructuring and re-organization of the institution was really what was required.     My suggestions, even though amply supported by the literature on higher education and national development, never gained any traction.     The Task Force was content with peeling away the outer rings of the “onion” while the “kernel” remained untouched.

The University of Guyana (UG) is indeed between a rock and a hard place.    The entire public education system in Guyana is seriously underfunded and under-resourced.    Universities are costly, but ignorance, poverty and their associated social ills are even more costly.    At this particular unstable stage of Guyana’s development UG must be seen as a national investment and not as a social service.    In the context of our economic and social realities, although UG’s administration desires an increase in tuition fees, the question is: “Can all students afford to pay this increase?”    Is there an alternative solution to UG’s dilemma?    What about resource re-allocation?

UG’s (and government’s) policies must not exacerbate, or be seen to exacerbate existing dire social conditions, to promote inequalities, and to widen the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”.    If Guyana is supposed to be waging war on ignorance and poverty as promised by His Excellency the President in his address to the opening of the 11th Parliament in June, 2015, then the education system must facilitate greater upward social mobility in far greater numbers than is presently the case.    Poverty and ignorance cannot be overcome unless the middle class is significantly enlarged.     Therefore, any policy that prevents greater upward social mobility must be deemed inappropriate.      It might even be considered unpatriotic.

There are several aspects of UG’s predicament that should be examined before an increase in tuition is contemplated.   I will mention four.    First, it is suggested that some of the key players in the UG affair persist in thinking of the education system as consisting of three levels that are completely separate – primary, secondary, tertiary, instead of viewing it as one whole living dynamic system consisting of interdependent micro-systems. In thinking about the Transforma-tion of UG, questions about the tertiary/secondary interface are legitimate.       Bearing in mind that several areas of knowledge which were previously studied at university level are now part of the secondary school curriculum, we can legitimately ask what General Education courses, Certificate, Diploma and enrichment programmes currently being studied at UG can now be adequately studied at an enhanced secondary level, thereby freeing up resources which can then be re-allocated to the postgraduate level.

Second, the institution needs to downsize its bureaucracy.    Do we still need such top-heavy “Imperial” trappings as: Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, 3 Deputy-Vice-Chancellors, several Boards, rotating Deans for each Faculty, and a large University Council of nearly thirty persons?    A President, 3 Vice-Presidents, and a Board of 5 Trustees would be less costly, more efficient, and much more effective as well.    Creativity is fundamental to higher education, and UG needs as much as it can get.   It is best fostered through an organization structure that provides immediate access for programme proposals to the decision-making levels of the institution.    Given the flattened structure, creative ideas that arise at the activity level can be quickly forwarded to the decision-making level, because there is little intervening hierarchical structure.

Third, the 1985 study revealed a phenomenon of some concern: “Classroom expenditures were decreasing relative to increasing expenditures in the estate (cleaning, landscaping, etc.) sector.    When  the resources (space, human, equipment and its maintenance, man hours, record keeping, industrial relations, supervision, etc.) consumed by the estate sector are taken into account, would the university be better served by divesting itself of this sector, and contracting out certain services?    The university needs to see itself as primarily concerned with teaching, research, and public service.     It was not established to provide employment.     A small corps of competent maintenance workers should suffice.

Fourth, the transformation of UG cannot be achieved without the full cooperation of the faculty.    At the moment faculty at UG are a demoralized group of professionals, and it is not only a question of remuneration.   The career path at UG is long and arduous.   There are 7 tiers (Assistant Instructor, Instructor, Lecturer 1, Lecturer 2,    Senior Lecturer, Reader, and Professor.) on the career ladder before one can obtain a full professorship.     It is suggested that in addition to the appointment of Executive Deans, that the seven tiers be converted into three tiers: Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor.     Such a conversion should have a rejuvenating effect.

These are some of the issues that need to be seriously examined before increases in fees are considered.    Restructuring in alignment with Guyana’s development problems should enable the institution to accomplish more with less.    Resources that accumulate as a result of the restructuring exercise can be re-allocated to the postgraduate level.   This would not only raise the development consciousness of the entire institution, but also make the institution more development oriented.

It must be emphasized that UG cannot at this time be all things to all people.    Understanding the institution’s current role in the nation’s development is not an optional matter for its decision-makers.    It is an imperative.    When UG begins to feed the highly qualified manpower into the general Guyanese economy and society, then returns from the increased creation of wealth will feed back into the university and this would enable the institution to resume its quest for comprehensiveness.

Yours faithfully

Clarence O. Perry

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