Discrimination in UG admissions?
Everything above board - administration insists
by Robert Bazil
August 17, 1999
THE administration of the University of Guyana has maintained it is operating above board amid charges of discrimination, racism and other shortcomings in the admission procedure.
Minister of Education, Dr. Dale Bisnauth also dismissed the claims stating that because of the "realities" of the Guyanese society, everything often is seen from the point of view of race.
The faculties of Health Sciences (medical school), Law and Education have come under scrutiny recently by prospective students, members of the public and others.
UG Vice Chancellor, Professor Harold Lutchman and key staff spoke with the Chronicle on some of the admission procedures, among other issues.
They maintained that students get into UG only on the basis of the required criteria which are set by the Academic Board - the highest academic body at the university. These requirements are advertised in the media.
However, Lutchman pointed out that persons who want to do law and do not have two `A' level subjects can do a preliminary year of any (degree) programme at the UG but must pass with no less than a grade point average of `B'.
Additionally, persons with degrees and diplomas may also apply freely to the law programme.
He said this is the agreement between UG and the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Lutchman emphasised that no person is admitted to the law programme until he/she is interviewed by senior members of the Law Department.
The official stressed that although a specific number of persons may have the qualifications to enter the law programme, if there is a space problem, the applicants will be ranked and judged against each other according to grades.
Reiterating that "space is not unlimited", UG officials said the medicine programme can accommodate about 25 students, while the law course holds about 35.
The prospective medical students can do a preliminary year of chemistry or biology with a minimum grade point average of `B'. An associate degree or a full degree is also acceptable for entry into the medical programme.
It was reported that the number of applicants in some programmes is far in excess of the available space, but officials assured that the elimination process is not based on anything other than academic consideration.
Things such as race or prospective students are not on the application form and no photographs are required either at that stage.
Lutchman declared that the closest thing the university officials know about an applicant is that he or she is a Guyanese, who will be given preference over foreign students.
Maintaining that the university is on par with many similar institutions internationally, Lutchman said students have excelled in law, medicine and accountancy.
"Our students have no problem gaining admission to other medical schools in the U.S. and other places," he said, adding that they have been performing better than their peers in the Caribbean.
But he felt that the fees being paid by students are inadequate; lower than UWI and many other universities in the world,
He declared: "Most private primary schools in Guyana charge more fees per student than the University of Guyana."
Mr. Dereck Boston, Assistant Registrar Admissions, explained that to gain entry to the university, prospective students have to have five subjects at the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams with grade I, II or III at GEC `O' level from June 1998 or after, or grades I and II before then.
Grades A, B and C at the London based General Certificate of Examination (GCE) exams are also accepted.
English Language is required for entry to all of UG's programmes, while Science and Maths are compulsory for some programmes. However, persons who want to do law or medicine must have `A' level passes.
With respect to the scrutiny of application forms, Boston noted that this is not only done by the Admissions Department but by the respective department or faculty, as well.
The next step involves the verification of certificates and the prospective student is asked to bring in his original documents. Copies of transcripts delivered personally by students are not accepted, but only those which come directly from the Ministry of Education.
Generally, more than 5,000 students would apply to the university but only about 2,000 would qualify for admission.
Efforts are being made to encourage more persons from the rural areas to attend the university which resulted in the construction of three dormitories on and near the campus.
And according to Planning Officer of the Office of Resource Mobilisation and Planning, Mr. Phillip Walcott, UG would like to see more foreign students applying to the institution although the last academic year had 44. Foreign students have to pay US$4,000 in fees for an academic year, except for those doing medicine who have to pay US$6,200.
The annual fees for local students for regular programmes is $127,000 and all fees are due not later than the first day classes. Local students pay $300,000 for law and $500,000 for medicine annually.
Walcott said the campus has embarked on an internationalisation exercise where it is seeking to increase the foreign flavour with students from overseas.
This includes student exchange programmes.
Recently, UG was involved with the York University which sent students here.
Agreements have either been entered into or are being negotiated with several other institutions, including Creighton University in the U.S.; the University of the Virgin Islands, for 15 students; the Megder Evers College in the U.S.; the Morris Brown College for study abroad for one or part of a semester; the University of Florida; the University of North Florida; the Central; Warwick; Kent; UNICA in Latin America; Suriname; Roraima in Brazil and Botswana.
At the moment UG has a formal link with UWI and recently an agreement was signed with China seeking students from there.
Officials explained that in China there is an excess demand for universities, and plans are being put in place to allow students willing to pay fees to come here.
"We are working on universities in California which have been sending students to Kenya to do tropical medicine. We are trying to convince them to send some of those students here", Walcott said.
Another aspect of the internationalisation programme involves lectures by specialists and consultants who come to Guyana to do work for the Ministry of Health, he said.
Bursar, Mr. John Seeram said the current expenses budget of the university is $760M, explaining that 79 per cent of this is obtained from fees. About 85 per cent of applicants usually opt for student loans.
Fees are either paid up front or students can take loans from the Student Loans Agency which is operated by the Ministry of Finance. When these loans are approved, the money is paid over to UG.
"We have to look at managing our resources prudently because we are heavily dependent on the government...if the government encounters a cash problem, it would affect us," he added. The Ministry of Finance provides money for capital works.
The official stated that this year, $35M has been allocated to repair roofs in the Natural and Health Sciences building, refurbish the labs, rewire the library, and upgrade the Faculties of Technology, Social Sciences and Arts.
Additionally, the Faculty of Agriculture would get some improvements to its building.
Also at the interview was Assistant Registrar, Examinations, Mr. Asger Esoof who explained the procedures for examinations.
Meanwhile, former lecturer and head of the Guyana Medical Association (GMA), Dr. Carl Max Hanoman, in an interview, commented on the lack of resources at the medical school and the Georgetown Hospital.
According to him, all the applicants short listed by UG were interviewed by a panel comprising persons from the university, the Guyana Medical Association, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Head of the Faculty of Pre-Clinical Sciences and the Dean of Medicine.
The interviewing panel determines if an applicant to the medical school has the "make-up" of wanting to be a doctor.
Hanoman had been involved in looking at possible cases of discrimination around 1995 because "we felt that some people who did not meet the requirements were being put in because they knew somebody".
University lecturer, Mr. Freddie Kissoon is confident that there are cases of discrimination and skullduggery at UG.
"Discrimination and skullduggery is symptomatic of the decline of the University of Guyana...I cannot see how there is a decline in the society and UG is not touched," he declared.
He told the Chronicle that in courses such as Sociology and History, there is hardly scope for discrimination in admissions, unlike Management which is competitive. "UG needs the money and the society needs the management skills", he said.
Kissoon mentioned one case where he believes that an applicant got into UG although she did not meet the admission requirements, in his estimation.
He suggested that one way of ensuring transparency is to introduce a mechanism of cross-faculty and department checks of applications.
The official called for the need to have a body vetting examinations set by places like Critchlow Labour College, charging that that organisation was originally set up based on a political agenda.
Some certificates offered at Critchlow Labour College are accepted for admission to the University of Guyana.
UG occupied its present site at Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara, about eight kilometres from downtown Georgetown, in 1969.
The 56 hectres on which it stands is a gift from the Booker Group of Companies and the original 10 buildings were made possible by capital grants from the governments of Guyana, the United Kingdom and Canada.
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples