UG floundering through poor financing--Lutchman

Spotlight on Issues
Stabroek News
September 18, 1999

The building which houses the Learning Resource Centre (top) and the Computer Centre is in need of a face lift.

Recently, Guyana's first and only institution of higher learning, the University of Guyana, has been the focus of much attention at various levels. Spotlight on Issues takes a look at some of the challenges facing the university as it moves towards the new millennium and the restructuring of the institution.

Spotlight on Issues also canvassed the views of students attending the University of Guyana on what needs to be done to make it ready for the new millennium. Few of the students were willing to go on record and of those willing only one gave his full name and agreed to have his photograph taken. The students said that they feared victimisation.

University of Guyana (UG) Vice-Chancellor Professor Harold Lutchman says that poor financing is the cause of the institution not being able to fulfil its mission.

The university's mission statement is: "To provide a place of free education, learning and research of a standard required, and expected of a university of the highest standard and to secure the advancement of knowledge and the diffusion and extension of arts, sciences and learning throughout Guyana."

The implementation of a Cost Recovery Programme (CRP) introduced in 1994 was met with strong resistance from students and prospective students who before then were privileged with free education from nursery to university.

However, the current fee--$127,000 per year--has been deemed unrealistic for the level of education being provided at the university. This excludes students of the faculty of law who have to pay more for their education. The intention was to charge fees to the equivalent of US$1,000, but the devaluation of the local dollar has impacted on the fees structure.

At some stage, measures will have to be examined for the enhancing of the financial standing of UG. A substantial portion of the fees paid at the institution goes towards the payment of salaries for academic and non-academic staff. This has to be, since the university is under-capitalized. Low salaries have impacted negatively on the institution, affecting the level of professional tutoring.

Lutchman says that it is difficult to attract and retain quality professional staff on salaries which are not comparable with those offered at other institutions such as the University of the West Indies. "The salary of the lowest grade teaching professional in the Caribbean is higher than that of a full professor at the University of Guyana. So, how could you compete?" he asks. He disclosed that some of the university's academic staff were the first to be recruited to Botswana, but this only came to light when professionals began leaving Guyana in large numbers.

The administration feels that any university should try to attract a certain number of persons with international standing as it's not a healthy situation for a university to be exclusively dependent on its nationals to teach.

When a university's staff's education is mainly first degrees, there is less exposure to other cultures, new ideas, innovations of teaching. This is because persons would not have embarked on research at the level of a second degree, Prof Lutchman said. Even among the student body, he added, a large percentage of foreign students augurs well for the development of the university because there will be exposure to alternative ways of perceiving and doing things, and of behaviour.

Another problem which was pointed out is that the quality of education has fallen far below standard. Prof Lutchman noted that if the quality of the intake has fallen, then more time has to be spent on bringing people up to a certain level.

Even though the larger sum of money comes from the payment of student fees, government has subsidized the institution with some $42 million plus the purchasing of materials for capital projects such as the maintenance of buildings. However, Lutchman is of the view that the university is too reliant on the government. He feels that the institution should be able to rely on its own human and other resources to fund most of the operations. As he succinctly puts it: "He who pays the piper, calls the tune; if you are receiving public funds, then you must expect a certain amount of public control." Among the concepts mooted to make the university viable are the establishment of a computer training facility for which mechanisms are being put in place. Even though the facility will be part of the university it will be run as a separate entity, free of control from the academic community.

The utilization of resources at the medical faculty to offer medical attention to residents in surrounding areas and of lawyers from the Law Faculty to offer legal advice is also being mulled.

A strategic plan, looking at the environment within which the university operates and the opportunities that are offered is being done in stages, overseen by Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Dr Gem Fletcher, with the assistance of several consultants. Ultimately there will be input from internal and external sources.

Part of the Faculty of Technology building now under repair.

Presidential Commission report
Govt action needed on certain recommendations -- Lutchman Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana (UG) Professor Harold Lutchman has said that the university does not have the authority to implement some elements of the recommendations proposed in the 1996 Presidential Commission report.

Government departments have to act upon some of the recommendations, the vice-chancellor stated. "There is a number of areas for which action is required by government departments... in many cases, blame is thrown at the university and makes it seem that the university is dragging its feet," Lutchman said in a recent interview with Stabroek News.

The report was presented to the late president Dr Cheddi Jagan on May 14, 1996 by a six-man commission which he had appointed to investigate the operations of Guyana's lone university.

As regards the Academic Board, the commission had recommended that its members serve a staggered term of not more than three years and that the minister of education should not have a separate representative on the appointed committee. However, the vice-chancellor explained that the university does not appoint its council; members only act on amending legislation if the need arises. He said that the Academic Board has not accepted this proposal. They feel that it is not practicable for members to serve a staggered term of three years.

Biennial budget
In dealing with financial statements, the commission felt that UG must present a biennial budget but added that implementation depends on further discussion with the Ministry of Finance. Lutchman said that this recommendation has been accepted in principle, but that the university cannot act on implementing this. "We can't work on a biennial budget and have this implemented independently, but with the collaboration of the Ministry of Finance." Lutchman stressed that coming up with a budget that included a government subvention was no problem, but there had to be an agreement with the Ministry of Finance.

The vice-chancellor bemoaned the fact that grants and loans from any source above $1 million, require prior approval from government.

Calling this requirement "a joke," the vice-chancellor cited a recent grant of $5 million, which the university had received from the furniture giants Courts. He also disclosed that two years ago the university received a grant of US$10,000 from the Medgar Evers College in New York. "So what, before you accept something like that, you go to government for them to pass it through the bureaucracy?" he asked, rhetorically. He said that government had recognised that the $1 million ceiling was unrealistically low, but had not set any new limit.

According to the vice-chancellor, members of the university were not following this principle in practice because it was not realistic. He said that the UG Council was also set a limit on grants, but that he would argue that there was no need for a limit on grants.

The commission had recommended that the Finance and General Purposes Committee, specify terms and conditions to receive grants or loans. But Lutchman explained that this Committee generally referred to as the F&GP Committee is chaired by the Pro-Chancellor and it is for that committee to lay down terms and condition, if the members so wish.

The Presidential Commission had also recommended that details of UG financial statements and salary scales for all senior faculty and administrative staff be made available for public scrutiny, but not names and salaries of individual staff and that the format for reporting expenditures shall be specified by government. Both Lutchman said that the first part of this recommendation has already been implemented. But according to Lutchman, the latter part requires action by government.

Student loans
On the question of student loans, the recommendation was that the Ministry of Finance should remove ambiguities from eligibility and repayment sections of the student loans agreement and be the guarantor of last resort. The recommendation also added that loans over and above tuition fees should be available based on a means test. Lutchman said this has been accepted by the university but again needed action by the Ministry of Finance to be implemented.

The commission report advised that the minister of education should be responsible for the creation of an Accreditation Board and the appointment of the members for a staggered term for at least six years. The board shall further create sub-committees comprising non-members of the board. This recommendation, according to the vice-chancellor is awaiting action from the minister. He disclosed that discussions have been held between himself and the minister and a consultant has been identified by him, as required. Lutchman said that approximately two years ago he raised this issue but to date no action has been taken.

Underlining the importance of the Education Department, Lutchman noted the recent burgeoning of educational institutions which offer a wide range of subjects, including computer training. "...The time has come when you have to have some sort of body that will give the stamp of approval to what they are doing," he stressed. He said that this must be done to give recognition to the diplomas, certificates and other programmes being offered.

"You need a central body as is done in other Caribbean countries," he said, adding that in Jamaica the university is compelled to submit its programme to the national accreditation body.

Lutchman said that prospective students usually request that their certificates and diplomas obtained from other institutions, be recognised by the University of Guyana. He added that students are so desperate that they sometimes approach politicians to support their case. However, he said, the university has procedures and everyone is expected to follow these.

"An Accreditation Board is need to take some of the pressures off the university," he stressed, adding, "even some of the courses that are proposed to be offered by the university, should be subjected to scrutiny."

Renovation being carried out on the Faculty of Natural Sciences building.

Staff depletion affects UG faculty restructuring
The restructuring of the University of Guyana (UG) Business and Management Studies Department as recommended in the Presidential Commission report calls for a separate school of management studies outside the Faculty of Social Sciences.

According to the report this will allow for the remaining departments in the Social Sciences Faculty to be combined with those in the Arts and Science faculties to create a single core faculty of Arts and Science.

UG Vice-Chancellor, Professor Harold Lutchman, said that the administration is in favour of a separate school for business and management studies. He said that ultimately there is a desire to see a MBA programme being offered, but stressed that staff constraints had to be considered. Once again he lamented the low salaries offered, which makes it difficult if not impossible to attract highly qualified persons. "Such is the staff situation, that we don't have a single person with a PhD in business and management studies," Lutchman said. He explained that if this particular recommendation is to be implemented then the capacity of the university to attract properly qualified people, will have to be looked at.

Lutchman acknowledged that the migration of teaching professionals to Botswana is contributing to the constraints being experienced.

The commission had recommended that there be the establishment of inter-faculty committees to investigate the inefficiencies within and among the faculties of arts and education and the faculties of health and natural sciences and technology, and to take appropriate steps to minimise these. Lutchman said that these faculties have had retreats where the inefficiencies talked about were looked at and recommendations made.

Computerisation of the UG Registry was recommended and according to Lutchman this has been started. He said there was still equipment to be installed.

And on the question of making students computer literate, the vice-chancellor said that the Computer Studies Unit was well equipped and more computers were expected from donors. "So we have been moving in this direction and we want to provide the internet service also."

The bottom line to the success of implementing most of the recommendations, the vice-chancellor said, depends greatly on the availability of funds. In his view the recommendations which the institution have been able to implement, have been done successfully. "As a whole, satisfactory progress has been made," he said.

Poor infrastructure, environment lends to low morale - Chemistry department head

Head of the Department of Chemistry, Natural Sciences Faculty, University of Guyana (UG) Gary Mendonca, says that the general morale on campus is very low.

Mendonca said that the development of a strategic plan, which has been embarked upon by Vice-Chancellor Professor Harold Lutchman and other senior officials was long overdue. Mendonca says that some works had started but unfortunately were not done in a systematic way, which is now beginning to happen. Faculties are now involved and the next step is to have the input of the public.

He noted that there were various factors which affect the running of the university. If one does not have sufficient resources, then the daily functioning of the university becomes problematic. For instance, he says, the university does not have a functioning intra-faculty communication system. In terms of external lines, there is only one telephone per faculty... "so you have a problem right away with communication with the outside which is unfortunate for a university," he said.

He disclosed that there are some hitches from a managerial point of view where people are doing their own thing. "I guess this happens in every organisation. But the problem is, because there is such a high turn over rate of staff members, it becomes a problem when you have to re-educate your managers." He explained that new staff members sometimes do things contrary to the university system.

Mendonca said that the university administration has an "irritating" way of making decisions arbitrarily. He pointed out that decisions are sometimes made without the involvement of the relevant persons who would have the hands-on knowledge or experience and the day-to-day contact with the student population. "Certain managerial policies are made upstairs without taking into consideration that various departments will be affected to varying degrees."

He explained that decisions made were sometimes favourable to a large department and not a small one and therefore compromises were never reached because the issues were not discussed. "The idea is to have a compromise but we don't get that opportunity and it frustrates a lot of people in the departments, even the deans."

The chemistry lecturer also expressed dissatisfaction with UG's infrastructural conditions and the non-availability of equipment in the various departments. And as regards the environment, according to him, the buildings are being taken over by termites as a result of the establishment of the squatting area aback of the university. He added that problems are further compounded by the fact that some senior and junior lecturers had to share offices. This, he contends, contradicts a principle of the university because it was inconvenient for one-on-one interaction between student and lecturer.

"We have a serious shortage of room at the university," Mendonca said. He added that the institution which was built to accommodate 300 students now houses in excess of 3,000. "The problem is known to the administration but nothing can be done about it because of the financial constraints." According to Mendonca, the acute space problem extends to the laboratories. The lecturer said that in the first semester an Economics class has an intake of 800 students, English 800, Maths 500, and Chemistry 300.

It is Mendonca's view that UG's problems lie in the unavailability of finances and he is adamant that students should pay more for their tuition. According to his calculations, each student should pay more than US$1,000 or $127,000. He pointed out that in the USA, students pay as much as $12,000 per year for a first degree programme. "We are only getting 1/12 so obviously we can only purchase 1/12 of what we need." He said that the government needed to do more in terms of giving a subvention to the institution.

The Faculty of Arts Building.

Students hold differing views on UG
First year student Reyon King of the Faculty of Social Sciences noted the need for improved sporting facilities. He feels that even though most of the lecturers are very good, those who speak foreign languages need to understand the local dialect clearly. He is satisfied with the administrative running of the institution and added that over the past year much has been done to improve the campus environment. He is also satisfied with the manner in which his lecturers conduct classes/tutorials and the promptness with which results are obtained.

Technology student Paul predicts that Guyana's only university will close down in the year 2001. According to him, the standards at the highest learning institution has dropped seriously. He argued this by citing that qualified and experienced lecturers are migrating to greener pastures and that past graduates with little or no practical experience are returning to teach. Paul pointed out that class lectures are based purely on what is in print. "Exactly what is written in the text books is taught. That's how they say it's done outside, but for me to understand I would prefer them to put it over in a similar way and not quote exactly from the text books." The technology student pointed out that in the world today, universities are blessed with the use of micro-chips. "In our library we still have 1977 text books dealing with tubes, we don't even have text books dealing with micro-chips." There is no way of furthering this university, he lamented, adding that most of the donations of books are for the social and law faculties.

Reyon King

Asked about the campus surroundings, Paul said that the administration was trying its utmost to maintain a clean and healthy campus but bemoaned that there was not an efficient drainage system. He was the first to admit that students are responsible for the littering of the campus. He further bemoaned that the penalty of a $500 fine instituted by the university's administration, for littering, has gone with the wind.

Colin from the Faculty of Technology feels that the university's standards are far below those in the outside world. He described the teaching methods as obsolete, stating that there was a need for the inclusion of modern electronic technology into the courses which would enhance the overall curriculum. He criticised the lecturers for not placing emphasis on modern day teaching, stating that lecturers just teach what was set out in the text books. "They themselves do not have the experience to teach because they do not do any research on their own. All the books that they have are from 1973/4... we need the exposure and I think that most people just want to get their paper to go outside and further their studies."

The Faculty of Education, one of the better kept buildings on campus.

Live-in arrangement advocated for UG On February 16, this year the University of Guyana's third residence--the Edward B. Beharry Hall of Residence--was commissioned. The US$1.6 million ($281 million) structure is said to be the most expensive structure on the Turkeyen Campus.

Constructed to cater for students living outside Georgetown, the imposing structure consists of two floors and is divided into three wings with a total of 60 study/bedrooms.

The ground floor contains the warden's office, living quarters and a sick bay. The northern and southern wings on the ground floor which has 22 fully-furnished study/bedrooms are for male students. Each wing has a fully equipped laundry, kitchen, and common bathroom facilities.

The first floor, named Nandini Beharry Tiwary is for female students. This floor has three wings, equipped with the same facilities as the ground floor wings.

The other two Halls of Residence are the New Building Society Hall of Residence at Turkeyen and the Dennis Irvine Hall of Residence at Goedverwagting. The latter was named after former UG vice-chancellor, Professor Dennis Irvine.

UG Vice-Chancellor Professor Harold Lutchman told this newspaper that these halls are not yet opened to students. However, advertisements have been placed in the print media for their allocation. At the commissioning ceremony Chairman of the Beharry Group of Companies, Indermattie Beharry, had expressed her family's pleasure at being able to contribute to the development of Guyana's only university. She had also thrown out a challenge to the business community to follow the example set by her family.

Lutchman who has always been in favour of a residential component of the university said that the institution suffered from not having the capacity for significant numbers of students to reside within its confines. He is of the view that in terms of commitment to one's alma mater there are important differences between being associated with an institution on a commuting basis and being associated with it on a residential basis.

The vice-chancellor believes that living at a university hall could allow for establishing and reinforcing values.

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