The University of Guyana
Guyana Chronicle
March 13, 2003

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Somewhere in the 1950s the Government of Guyana became convinced that every nation should have its own institutions of higher learning out of which national thinking would be nurtured. In the circumstance the Government established the University of Guyana in 1963. The University was expected to create and encourage a national intellectual nucleus around which a systematic definition of the national purpose would evolve.

Forty years on the Government is still committed to these goals and the University continues to strive to make them a reality. What is not so certain is the capacity of either to measure up to current expectations consonant with that commitment. Standing in the way of the Government are competing demands for improved standards of life and living, and of sea defence, drainage and irrigation, education, public health and national security. All of this in a situation where international markets are shrinking, the national economy is challenged and the cost of living continues to climb upward. Standing in the way of the University is chronic disinvestment, which has engineered virtual technological obsolescence and institutional backwardness. But this was foreseen as early as the 1990s. A plethora of commissions and committees investigated and reported on the ravages of disinvestment. The IDB initiatives of the late 1980s and early 1990s provided temporary relief but only just.

Previous experience, especially that of the late 1980s, had demonstrated quite clearly that even with the best of intentions and the greatest outpouring of national commitment developing countries have found it difficult to sustain the quality and hence currency required at the tertiary level. In the circumstance, the University crafted a cost recovery scheme which, though not entirely economic, sought to reduce its dependence on an annual subvention from the state. The problem was that the local banking system was reluctant to bankroll it. As a last resort, the Government volunteered to underwrite the loan recovery scheme and the University found itself, right where it had all begun, totally dependent on the state, and in competition with all other state agencies, for its funding.

Since the state of the economy could not allow the Government to be as generous as it would have preferred, University fees were capped at their 1994 levels. The state just could not afford another large annual charge on the national revenue. To excuse its limitations policy makers alluded to the World Bank's objection to too generous an expenditure on tertiary level education. Others have argued that the size of the University population did not justify the size of annual expenditure required. In the circumstance, while some developing countries annually devote some 10-12 per cent of the total recurrent expenditure on university education, in Guyana it runs at a modest 5 per cent.

All the while faced with the new gospel of the universality of education and in a desperate effort to increase the annual revenue base, the University extended its minimum entry requirement thereby attracting a lesser-qualified number of students unto its roll. This initiative created a debilitating conjunction which currently bedevils the institution. Increasingly it is being required to do more with less as a consequence of which it has aggravated and exaggerated its inadequacies and incapacities. The stress so caused has enhanced the external haemorrhaging of qualified staff while bearing heavily on space, infrastructure, equipment and ultimately on relevance and quality.

It is no wonder therefore, that the University is finding it exceedingly difficult to cope. Its overall capacity is worn thin and so is its morale. Yet regional governments are currently committed to affording a significant proportion of their respective population quality tertiary education while CSME and forces further afield suggest that national survival will increasingly be facilitated by urgently required improvements in the programme delivery of university education. The recent outpourings seem to suggest that it is the University which must somehow create the resources that are urgently required for recovery and renewal. While the University must be required to do much more than it is currently doing to aid the process, it would be most unwise to believe that the University can somehow manage it all on its own.

In this respect it is to be hoped that the recent development strategy document has charted the role of each of the stakeholders; public and private, regional and international.

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