The U.G. Funding Dispute

From Sunday Stabroek, March 31, 1996

Things have taken a strange turn at the University of Guyana. Now the President in response to a request from the students arranged for them to meet the U.G. administration as well as the Ministries of Finance and Education. According to a report in this newspaper of Tuesday, March 26, the purpose of this singular convocation was "to clarify the conflicting positions presented to them on the university's financial status." Exactly what happens when, in their new capacity as arbiters in the dispute between the U.G. administration and the Ministry of Finance, the students have decided in favour of one or other party, is by no means obvious; perhaps all they themselves really want out of the exercise is to know whom to picket.

What is at issue between the Minister of Finance and the University administration are questions of fact, not of interpretation. As it is, the evidence would clearly seem to suggest that the University has a very good case against the Finance Ministry. Even if that were not so, and the facts of the matter were far more obscure than they really are, for reasons which are self-evident the students should not be the ones sorting out truth from dissimulation in that kind of forum. In arranging this meeting, the President is undermining both his Minister of Finance, and the U.G. administration.

Which all does not mean to say that the students, no less than the public are not enlitled to an explanation of what is going on. The President should have been alarmed long ago by the contradictory statements being issued by his Finanace Minister and University officials and should have investigated the discrepancies in the two versions long before tbe students made a public issue of their frustration. That is the kind of dispute which ' should not be fought out in the public arena if the' Government does not want to appear manipulative in its modus operandi and less than candid in its pronouncements.

No-one seriously believes, for example, that U.G. is awash with funds unaccounted for, or that the institution is a 'gravy train' for staff, as today's cartoon in the Mirror suggests. The Auditor General's report and the staffing crisis alone belie those paiticular pieces of propaganda, and the Government is only bringing itself into disrepute by insisting on repeaffng that kind of line. All it has earned for its pains so far is some strenuous denials from U.G., some very angry students and a doubting population. It is an approach to the problem hardly designed to do anything for Government credibility.

What emerges from the fracas is the desperate need for some kind of intermediary body to be set up between the Government and the University to deal with funding, as was indeed recommended by the Augier Commission a few years ago. In such a scenario the Government would pay the University's subvenffon.and student fees to such a body, which would then disburse money to the University after the administraffon had submitted all the necessary data on its long-term plans, current expenditure and the like. Direct negoffaffons between the Government and the University on the matter of funding and expenditure, therefore, would not occur, and the Government would be released from the charge of attempffng-to interfere in campus affairs by the manipulaffon of funds. The University, on the other hand, would sffll have to jusfffy its expenditure in a public way, and controls would be exercised over how monies were utilized.

It is time that the Government decided to relinquish its stranglehold on the University. Let it function truly independently, and then make an assessment as to how well or otherwhe it is functioning.