Construction extension delays UG Berbice
campus opening Semester to start at month end

By Oscar P. Clarke
Stabroek News
September 15, 2000

Classes at the Berbice Campus of the University of Guyana (UG) are scheduled to commence as early as month end with the ending of construction and equipping of the facility.

This disclosure was made yesterday by head of the task force responsible for overseeing the establishment of the institution, Dr Marlene Cox, at a press briefing at the Turkeyen facility.

Furnishings for the institution, which according to Bursar, John Seeram, have been ordered at a cost of $30 million, will be installed as soon as the building is handed over with that process taking up to two weeks. Registration is scheduled for Friday, September 22, at the Tain, Port Mourant, Campus site starting at 0900 hrs.

Speaking from a prepared text, Dr Cox stated that contrary to a Guyana Information Services (GIS) release titled `Berbice campus opening delayed' circulated to media houses, the position was that the contractors were given until September 18, to hand over the keys following an extension on the September 8, deadline.

According to Dr Cox, the keys were not handed over due to incomplete construction at the site. Once in receipt of the keys, the university has to equip the library, offices, four classrooms and the computer room, the statement said.

The university, she stated, had always maintained that the final offering of any programme on the campus, would be determined by student numbers and availability of lecturers.

The press briefing was called to respond to the GIS release, which had stated that an impasse between the administration and teaching staff of the Social Sciences faculty had necessitated a postponement of the campus' opening until further notice.

Staff of the department, the release stated, had refused to be associated with the Tain facility until the administration acknowledged the remuneration package they were requesting.

The bulletin had further stated that the entire staff of that faculty, following a rejection of the package, had held an emergency meeting where passage of an unopposed resolution deemed them unprepared to serve at the next campus unless their requests were reasonably considered.

The lecturers, according to the GIS release, were requesting 59% of the basic salary of a Turkeyen lecturer for the duration of the first semester with those from Turkeyen, who were going to Berbice asking for a 50% increase of their basic salary.

Other demands included duty-free concessions for those who had to travel to the ancient county, $7,000 per trip in lieu of accommodation and a $5,000 out-of-town allowance.

On Tuesday last, according to the release, the academics met the administration who in rejecting their demands, offered a 33% increase on the basic salary. In response to the duty-free request, the administration had said that it was outside its jurisdiction.

Questioned on the effects of the lecturers' action, acting Vice-Chancellor of UG, Dr James Rose, stated that there was always scope for negotiations on all other terms apart from the duty-free concession issue, which was the purview of the Ministry of Finance.

He said that correspondence had been dispatched to the ministry and they were hoping for a speedy answer.

The request for the concession had to do with the frequency with which certain senior lecturers would have to travel to the Berbice facility. Although additional people would be hired in the region there would still be a dependence on staff from Turkeyen. It was further stated that historically lecturers at the university used to benefit from the concession, but that it was suddenly stopped without official notification.

On the issue of other grievances, Cox stated that the Berbice Campus Task Force, which included the deans of two faculties, had discussions on the package that the lecturers should receive and acknowledged movement on the part of the administration from its original offer. The last offer, she added, which was made on September 5, would see a salary of one third of the lecturer's basic monthly earnings, travelling of $7,000 per return trip, accommodation, travel insurance and a per diem determined by the number of hours absent from Turkeyen amounting to $4,500 for 24 hours absence.

Cox reminded that the administration had always maintained that teaching at the Berbice Campus was voluntary, and that students at the main campus along with the lecturer's responsibilities there should not suffer as a result of their having to teach at the new campus.

At the briefing it was also announced that the university had received some 23 responses to advertisements for posts at the new facility but that only three or four of these had been recommended for full-time appointments with three coming from the ancient county.

Speaking on the viability of carrying on classes with less than ten persons, Registrar Dr David Chanderbali stated that a number of considerations had been taken into account like the make-up of classes which would see persons from different programmes taking common subjects.

And commenting on the implications of the campus' late opening, Chanderbali disclosed that measures had been in place to avoid students from being at a disadvantage. The first semester, he added, would spill over into the new year so as to allow adequate time to run the syllabus. But with the beginning of the next semester he hoped that both campuses could commence on the same date.

Commenting on the delay in completion of the new facility, Dr Rose said that the construction work saw variations from time to time and the administration had insisted on some modifications which caused an overrun. Some of these hiccups, he said, included unhappiness with the landscape and inadequate electricity and telephone facilities.

He said that allowances had always been made for overlapping and praised Courtney Benn Construction company for a wonderful job done.

The Berbice Campus has received 231 applications with nearly 123 being so far being deemed eligible and a further number likely to be accepted following them being successful at English and Mathematics entrance exams held recently. The campus on the Corentyne, is being constructed by government from Capital Estimates with UG spending some $4 million as of yesterday. The bulk of the expenditure, Seeram said, was undertaken by the Ministry of Education.

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