Lutchman moots training shift at UG

By Desiree Jodah
Stabroek News
November 15, 1999

University of Guyana (UG) Vice-Chancellor (VC) Professor Harold Lutchman is advocating more emphasis on training at the institution so graduates would be better equipped to enter the job market.

He was speaking at the university's 33rd Convocation ceremony on Saturday at its Turkeyen campus.

And UG valedictorian Jennifer Cumberbatch recommended less intrigue internally and outside of the institution when she delivered her speech at the graduation.

Cumberbatch who received the President's award for the best graduating Bachelor's Degree student was among 1070 students who graduated at a pomp-filled ceremony.

Top graduate: Prime Minister Samuel Hinds who is performing the functions of President pins the President's medal on the University of Guyana's (UG) best graduating Bachelor's Degree student Jennifer Cumberbatch. The occasion was UG's 33rd Convocation ceremony on Saturday at Turkeyen. (Ken Moore photo)

The teacher, responding to numerous criticisms of the institution recently, agreed that standards have been falling but cautioned critics not to damage the integrity and reputation of the university. She said constructive criticism would be welcomed.

Cumberbatch also urged that teachers' attendance at the university should not be viewed negatively, but as an integral part of improving the educational system.

Lutchman, alluding to a comparison made in the media between UG and the University of the West Indies (UWI), said the success with which UWI is associated was due in large measure to its ability to compete for and attract personnel of quality in the international job market.

In reference to the teaching and research staff, Lutchman lamented the paucity of persons qualified for appointment. According to him, a significant number of those who teach are without Ph.Ds and Master's Degrees. He said as a result of the shortage of qualified staff, the university has resorted to the temporary employment of persons with first degrees. Within recent times, demands have been made by some faculties to substitute experience for the minimum requirement of at least a pass with credit before one could teach a course.

The VC said his opinion was that in such cases the better option might have been not to offer the course.

A matter of concern to Lutchman was the seniority structure of the teaching staff. He said except for the law department, there were few full professors and other senior academics at the university. Lutchman noted that the teaching and research staff at the institution was largely Guyanese, many of whom had been trained at UG. According to him, "this in-breeding was far from healthy."

Pro-Chancellor Dr Joshua Ramsammy pins the Chancellor's medal on Cheryl Weever for being the second best graduating Bachelor's Degree student. (Ken Moore photo)

The VC blamed the poor quality of students coming out of the university on the fact that the bulk of students recruited come from the "lower levels" of the Guyanese educational system.

He said correspondence received from UG students cause him to wonder about the foundation they would have received at the primary and secondary levels of their schooling.

Lutchman advocated a significant shift of emphasis in favour of training at UG rather than education, where he said, on leaving students would be better equipped to directly enter the job market and perform concrete tasks.

However, he said, to give effect to such a shift would require a certain amount of retooling at the institution. According to him, many of those who teach are theory oriented and trained and lack practical experience in the fields in which they attempt to equip graduates to function.

Lutchman noted that a good quality tertiary education could not be cheaply acquired. This, he said, would certainly have implications for the fees the students pay, as well as the level at which those who teach are remunerated.

He said the annual fee for students of $127,000 was fixed by the university as the equivalent of US$1,000 per year. This fee did not increase although the Guyana dollar had depreciated to $180 to US$1.

Lutchman said he recalled Minister of Education, Dale Bisnauth saying that he would favour an increase in fees if it was tied to improvements. However, he questioned which should come first, an increase in fees which would give the university the revenue needed for improvements or an amelioration of conditions and quality that would induce decision makers and students to be more receptive to increases in fees? He said one has to bear in mind the almost instinctive reaction by students against such increases.

Lutchman contended that it was almost unrealistic to expect the University of Guyana to produce students of comparable worth with its overseas counterparts when it could not compete with them in the acquisition of quality personnel.

He said UG should be praised for its contribution to the nation.

To graduants, Lutchman said the quality of a university and its products are not in the long run judged by the number of students it graduates with distinctions or credits, but by the extent to which they could demonstrate by their performance, that they have received education and training of quality at their alma mater. He urged that they regard the learning process as not ending with their graduation.

Guest speaker professor Rex Nettleford, Vice-Chancellor of UWI, cautioned the graduates to brace themselves to face the contradictions, creative chaos and stubborn challenges of the reality of a world in which the only thing that was certain was uncertainty.

However, he encouraged, "you are starting out with decided advantages, for you can indeed take risks now that you have some knowledge. He added, "risk without knowledge is dangerous, but knowledge without risk is useless."

He recommended the seven "deadly" virtues to the students, noting that they are demanded of all who are called upon to assume leadership roles. These virtues are, selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership by example rather than precept.

Nettleford also enjoined the students to believe in themselves and what they are in terms of the positive, creative, resourceful role they could play in the shaping of a world better than the one "we have inherited in this turbulent century of ours."

Several prizes were handed out to those students who excelled in the various programmes. Cheryl Weever from the Faculty of Education received the Chancellor's award for being the second best graduating Bachelor's Degree student.

June Collins of the Arts Faculty received the Council of the University prize. Christine McGowan of Social Sciences who passed the Law programme with distinction received the UGSS award. David Carto of Technology received the K.A Juman-Yassin award for participating at a consistently high standard in sports. Kowlessar Misir received the Dennis Irvine award. The Prime Minister's award went to Juanita Chung for being the best graduating student with the Diploma in Public Management.

McGowan also received the Pro-Chancellor's award for the best graduating law student.

PM's medal: Minister of Agriculture and acting Prime Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud pins the PM's medal on Juanita Chung who was the best graduating student with the Diploma in Public Management at Saturday's 33rd Convocation of the University of Guyana at Turkeyen. (Ken Moore photo)

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