The other story
By Dr James Rose
Guyana Chronicle
December 7, 2002

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IN an age when the Guyanese society has grown to expect much of the University its mission ought to be much wider than merely perpetuating the life of scholarship for its sake. In today's Guyana, the University is required to become one of the main precursors of development. Its mission statement, strategic vision, teaching and learning policies and research directions must demonstrate an active professional concern for the challenges confronting the nation.

In the current environment and historical conjunction the University is obliged to discuss as part of an ongoing process, its aims and objectives with the state, with employers and with other interested stakeholders. Opportunities must also be arranged to constructively debate the burning issues of our times and the role of the University in furthering the national development process.

Unlike any other period, the Guyanese society is legitimately concerned with the University's objectives, its priorities, its strategies and its potential for successful goal attainment. Discussion between and among its various stakeholders is one of the best ways of settling such burning issues as quality, relevance, currency, transparency and accountability. Such an approach is more likely to reassure the society about the usefulness and validity of the University's institutional effort, than almost any other, that is, except for the product of that institution.

A few Saturdays ago, in traditional pomp and ceremony, the Turkeyen Campus, at its 36th annual convocation passed out some 1,300 students. Guyana has grown to accept the fact that many of these skilled young persons will seek their fortunes beyond the shores of this country. They will add to the professionalised work force and national development processes in the Caribbean, the United States, and even Africa. They will offer quality service and many will in time grow to distinguish themselves in these distant shores much to our credit. But even so most will remain at home and hopefully, if given the chance, will perform with similar credit. Over the years the Turkeyen Campus and graduated some 15,000 students. The process has always been the same and the signs do not suggest that a change is at hand.

Last Saturday, the Berbice Campus witnessed its first convocation, awarding certificates and diplomas to some 93 students in the Arts, Education and Social Sciences. The joy of the occasion was written across the face of every graduand, parent, spouse and indeed all of Berbice, if not, as yet, Guyana. Some two years ago when the University of Guyana, with the support of the Government, decided to extend its teaching facilities to Berbice, many were the critics who argued that the money could be better spent on the Turkeyen campus or that the development of a distance mode of delivery would be a more viable and prudent economic investment. Not to be outdone, the politically inclined argued that the decision reflected a partisan political response to the strong and influential Corentyne constituency. As so very often happens, they were at the time unwilling to accept the simple, but obvious fact that there was a need and that the need justified the extension of teaching facilities to Berbice. Today, the Berbice initiative has matured to the satisfaction of the most vocal of its many critics.

The success of the Berbice initiative reflected the triumph of creative planning over the limitations of the current environment. In spite of the difficulties experienced by the Turkeyen Campus in recruiting quality staff there was great optimism that such staffing would become available for posting to the Berbice Campus, but this was not to be. There were very few applicants for the Berbice Campus and very few of these satisfied the minimum requisite quality. Faced with the absence of teaching staff for the Berbice Campus the University sought volunteers from among its Turkeyen teaching complement and the response was enthusiastic and the subsequent performance, hiccups aside, was professionally correct.

Last Saturday, the students were effusive in praise of their Turkeyen lecturers and feted them appropriately. One of the factors explaining the satisfaction of the Berbice students was their conviction that they were being afforded the best that was available to their Turkeyen counterparts. On the other hand, one of the factors explaining the continued enthusiasm and therefore commitment of the Turkeyen lecturers was the attitude of the Berbice students. They were eager to learn. They read copiously. They researched their assignments and completed them on time. They did not think that race, gender or political affiliation would earn them preferment or would militate against their performance and hence their true achievement.

Life can sometimes play us very strange concertos. Ever so often we are assailed by the plaintive melody that on the Turkeyen Campus lecturers are preoccupied with race and partisan politics to the disadvantage of professionalism and the welfare of our students. While there must be some accounting for the irresponsible few, not to mention the limitations of some others, the evidence suggest that the overwhelming many are committed to their profession and all that is best for their students.

It is fashionable to blame others and excuse ourselves. Complaining about everything under the sun is rapidly becoming a national pastime. It is a dangerous remedy for personal weaknesses as well as national limitations and ought not to be recommended by any serious physician. Berbice, no less than Turkeyen, has shown that success comes with industry, dedication and commitment, not excuses.

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