Adjusting to the changing world
New UG Chancellor, Professor Calestous Juma Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
March 3, 2002

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Kenya born Professor Calestous Juma, the recently-installed sixth chancellor of the University of Guyana (UG), is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs as well as the Director of the Science, Technology and Innovation Program at the Center for International Development at Harvard University.

With a distinguished career holding several positions in international organisations and achieving several international awards for his works, Prof Juma's research interests include evolutionary systems theory; science and technology policy studies; institutional change; biotechnology and biological diversity; and international environmental policy. He has also written widely on issues of science, technology and the environment.

Stabroek News' reporter, Miranda La Rose, conducted an interview online with Prof Juma, who was installed as UG chancellor on January 28, initially for a three-year period.

SN: What would you say are the most crucial challenges facing the University of Guyana? What are its greatest needs?

Juma: The most crucial transition for the University of Guyana is to transform itself into being a sustainable development research institution with a focus on national and international priorities. This shift will involve improving the environment for research for faculty and students, focusing on a few themes of relevance to the country, building interdisciplinary teams and demonstrating international leadership in a specific area. The greatest need at the moment is creative thinking and flexibility. My visit demonstrated that we have no shortage of these resources and will apply them to reposition the university to support the long term needs of society.

SN: The university is said to be severely under financed. What do you believe should be the solution?

Juma: My focus will be to place emphasis on mobilising additional financial resources through research and sale of services.

SN: Should the government provide more funds?

Juma: The government has a central role to play in supporting the university, especially, through the maintenance of core functions and activities. We would, however, like to see support that serves as an incentive to attract funding from other sources. For example, additional government funding could include challenge funds that enable us to explore new avenues for cooperation with the private sector and other non governmental institutions. The government can also play a key role procuring university services and thereby helping to boost the revenue base. Our efforts to diversify our revenue base will need to involve close cooperation with the government and other institutions. We would like to work out these details as we continue to realize our vision of being a dynamic and adaptive institution.

SN: Should students pay more? Or should the university be

corporatised and try to earn its way through marketing

of services?

Juma: Our strategy for revenue generation will not be limited to one approach but will include a variety of carefully considered measures. We will develop a strategy that helps us to diversify our funding in a planned way that does not compromise the integrity of research and training.

SN: The university has been criticised for producing too many social sciences graduates and not enough science graduates. Is this a problem in your view and, if so, how should it be tackled? What should be done to generate skills relevant to Guyana's development needs and low technology condition?

Juma: We plan to work closely with the private sector, government and non governmental organizations to ensure that we train people who are relevant to the needs of the country. We plan to embark on regular consultations to get the appropriate feedback from potential employers. Furthermore, we also want to build a university that trains people to start and run their own businesses and activities. We would like to work with the government and private enterprises to be able to provide loans to students to start businesses. We envisage a university that will function as an incubator for businesses and conservation organizations. We also envisage close relations with the government and non governmental organizations to be sure that our graduates are well prepared for public and community service. We would like to establish regular round-tables involving industry, government and non governmental organizations to strengthen links and explore areas of mutual benefit. We will base our courses on assessments of emerging global trends. For example, bio-technology is emerging as a major source of economic productivity worldwide. This will affect fields such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries. In other words, farming is becoming science intensive and those that do not invest in specialized training will not have the skills needed for global competitiveness. Adapting to these trends requires countries to build strong competence in the biological sciences. We need to move in this direction. But this does not mean that other disciplines are irrelevant. What is important is to make the university relevant to socio economic needs.

SN: What sort of innovative links could be established with other universities to tackle some of the problems that the University of Guyana is facing?

Professor Juma: We are seeking research partnerships and exchanges with other universities around the world. We will also be seeking to provide affiliation to professors in other universities to help us build our capabilities. Furthermore, we would like to tap into courses offered by other universities through video conferencing and other communications technologies. Equally important is the need to make it possible for Guyanese people with specialized knowledge to be associated as researchers and lecturers to the university. This way our students can learn from leading practitioners. For example, we will be looking into involving chief executive officers of various companies in offering classes in their areas of expertise so that students can benefit from their specialized knowledge. This approach will be extended to other fields such as environmental management and public service. We want a university that is integrated into society in a genuine and organic way.

SN: Did you visit the Iwokrama International Centre for Conservation and Development (IICCD) on your recent visit? What were your impressions?

Juma: I visited the project's facilities at the university and was impressed by the quality of their technical work. It provides an example of the need to strengthen the role of the university in research, especially in exploring ways by which the country's biological resources could be used for meeting the welfare of the people. I look forward to strengthening our cooperation with the project. I am also actively exploring the creating of links between the university and other environmental organizations with a focus on human resource development.

Universities around the world are reviewing their roles in society. We want to be a leader on adjusting to the changing world so that we can show the way for others.