The Academic Board and the Government
May 23, 1999
On Thursday, 6th May, this newspaper reported on some concerns which had been expressed by the Academic Board of the University of Guyana. The Board's unease had its origins in the fact that Minister of Finance Bharrat Jagdeo had announced in his 1999 budget presentation that a university campus was to be established in Berbice, when he had had no prior recourse to the UG authorities whose approval was necessary for this to become a reality. In fact, it would appear that the members of the Board first learned of the proposal through the media.
As reported in our edition of the following day, the Academic Board was disturbed by another announcement of which they also allegedly had no prior notice. This was the decision by the Government to set up an off-shore medical school, which the Academic Board claimed would be operating in competition with the Guyana Medical School.
Where the Berbice campus is concerned, it is not as if the University of Guyana has not been working on the issue. In addition, it is not something which can come into being just through wish fulfilment on the part of government or anyone else; there are many complex issues to be settled, some of which the Academic Board listed in their letter, namely, staff, studentship, the kind of programmes which should be offered, parity with courses at the Turkeyen campus, and the University's Distance Education capacity.
However, it was not so much that the Minister's announcement was premature which upset the academicians, as that it was out of order. It would have been permissible, as the Board stated, for Mr Jagdeo to have expressed the wish publicly that he would like to see a campus established in Berbice, but he really should not have made the announcement that one would be established before due process at UG had been observed. The Academic Board is not there to fulfil the whims of ministers; it exists to ensure academic standards are maintained, among other things. From a practical point of view, to by-pass the Board is to undermine it, and by so doing to undermine the university. From a formal point of view, what the Minister did is in any case out of consonance with the Articles which govern the running of the institution.
The matter of the off-shore medical school raises a variety of issues. One of those, however, is that once again the Academic Board has been by-passed, since it claims that it has been tasked by the government with the provision of medical training in Guyana. It may be that an off-shore medical school might benefit the country; however, that is a position which should have been argued out with the Board. The fears of the University community that there would be competition between the proposed new school and the existing one at UG are not necessarily unfounded, and the Board would need special assurances that the Government was still committed to the local school.
The local University is beset by enormous problems. Nevertheless, the Government does not help the institution or ease its problems by taking decisions which intimately affect the operations at U.G. without going through the normal processes. However unpalatable it might seem to an impatient administration, the less autonomous a university is, the less use it is to a government and a nation. The Academic Board should be allowed to do the work it's supposed to do.
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