The Berbice campus - University of Guyana
- another important marker in our history

by Dr Leslie Ramsammy
Guyana Chronicle
November 18, 2000

TOMORROW, President Bharrat Jagdeo will declare the Berbice Campus of the University of Guyana officially open.

It will be a further advancement of the dream of the nation's founding father, Dr Cheddi Jagan.

It was Cheddi's dream to bring university education to all Guyanese. Today the dream is well on its way to realisation.

It will be another important marker in the history of our country. It will be a day indelibly etched in the minds of all Guyanese, and especially in the minds of the people from Berbice.

Cheddi pioneered university education in Guyana in the early 1960s at a time when many persons doubted that it could ever happen.

Many persons dismissed the idea as another pie-in-the-sky promise of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) and its leaders.

When we declared that we would establish a campus of the university in Berbice, many persons denounced the idea.

But the dismissive attitude of many persons was deja vu for those of us who persisted with the dream.

Few of us would forget how many first dismissed the idea of the University of Guyana as Cheddi's pie-in-the-sky dream and then when the University of Guyana was opened at Queen's College, many denounced it as "Cheddi's Night School".

Today, Cheddi's `Night School' is graduating doctors and lawyers, engineers and accounts, managers and writers, environmentalists and pharmacists, technologists and agricultural scientists and professionals serving Guyana in every field.

Regardless of where we live in Guyana, regardless of which political party we support, regardless of what ethnic group we belong to, November 19 must be a day that brings out a special sense of pride.

It is a day that advances our development as a nation.

There are times in a nation's development that mark a real beginning. This is one such time in terms of educational development as a whole.

But it is also a signal that Berbice has taken its rightful place as a major development centre.

The opening of the campus provides us with a legacy that is truly a people's accomplishment.

The task remains daunting. For we must continue to build the University of Guyana - Turkeyen Campus and Berbice Campus, but never lose sight of the dream which is to bring university education to all Guyanese wherever they live.

We must look at the opening of the Berbice campus as another reminder that the next stop must be Essequibo and then the hinterland and then Linden.

The opening of the Berbice Campus is a triumphal manifestation of persistence.

Cheddi was never afraid to give eloquence to his vision for Guyana. He could not complete his dream of bringing university education to Berbice, but his dream lives on.

Those of us who carry on his work persisted with the dream.

Bharrat Jagdeo, then Minister of Finance, and I held several community public meetings in Berbice in March/April 1998.

Bharrat Jagdeo announced at all of the meetings in Albion, Rose Hall town, Black Bush Polder, Number 63 Village, Alness and Crabwood Creek that we would establish the University of Guyana during this term of the government.

Moses Nagamootoo and I repeated that promise in early 1999.

President Janet Jagan reiterated the intention. In early 1999, in Berbice, Bharrat Jagdeo, still as Finance Minister and then as President declared that it was no longer a promise, but a contract with the people of Guyana, and especially the people of Berbice.

Many persons in Berbice itself and even at the University of Guyana dismissed it as another wild promise of the PPP/Civic.

In fact, some persons at the University of Guyana openly opposed the opening of the campus.

The university, indeed, has come along with us kicking and screaming.

The Opposition parties in Parliament denounced it as a misguided notion in Parliament during the budget debates for the Year 2000.

But the government persisted that the Berbice campus was a non-negotiable intent.

We are happy that the University of Guyana is today a partner in making the dream come through.

In order to get the campus going we were faced with daunting, seemingly intractable, challenges.

We have overcome the initial challenges, but there will be many more. Yet we have demonstrated that as a people we have the ill to ensure that our dreams manifest themselves into exciting realities - realities that bring real benefits to all Guyanese.

No one should be segregated by a lack of opportunity. The reality is that throughout our history, many Guyanese have been segregated by a lack of opportunities.

The last decade has seen Guyana making real progress in reducing this segregation.

The opportunity gap is being gradually reduced. The Berbice campus represents a concrete dent in the opportunity gap.

For young and old alike in Berbice, the campus presents opportunities that once were only stuff that dreams are made of. The opening of the Berbice Campus is a beacon of possibilities - possibilities that will forever transform the landscape and the lives of all Berbicians.

The 150 students represent pioneers that countless generations will look up to.

We salute these true pioneers!

In the year 2000, the number of students at the University in Guyana more than doubled over the number of students that entered the university in 1990.

The opening of the Berbice Campus now means that we have the opportunity of doubling this figure again in the next five years. Guyana is, indeed, investing in education and making it universal.

Not only are we taking university education to the people, but we are providing loans to ensure that everyone is able to attend university.

With all the constraints that the people of Berbice faced in the past, they have accomplished much.

It is not mere luck that the Pro-Chancellor, Dr Joshua Ramsammy is from Berbice. It is not coincidental that the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar are from Berbice.

Many of our leading professionals are from Berbice.

The dream of having a university in Guyana was brought to fruition by Dr Cheddi Jagan, from Port Mourant. The Berbice campus will ensure that Berbicians continue to make invaluable contributions to the development of Guyana.

All Guyana should put our differences aside for a moment to salute a truly Guyanese victory, a truly Guyanese accomplishment.

A People's Campus has been born. Let us wish it all success because in the end, all of us would benefit.

Today, Berbice stands proud.

Guyana is much stronger for it.

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