Choosing a Chancellor Editorial
Stabroek News
August 27, 2003

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The Chancellor of the University of Guyana (UG), it was learnt recently, has resigned because it is said of pressures in his substantive post. He had been Chancellor for hardly more than a year. His name, through no fault of his own, is almost unknown to the Guyanese public. He is Professor Calestous Juma, a Kenyan national and a distinguished Sussex University Alumnus (as is Thabo Mbeki - President of South Africa). He holds a post of high academic distinction; he is currently Director of the Science, Technology and Innovation Programme at the Center for International Development at Havard University.

One has given the above mentioned particulars, despite the fact that Professor Juma has resigned the position, so as to ask the question: Should a similarly distinguished foreign scholar succeed him as Chancellor? Is that what UG needs?

Until Professor Juma’s election all the Chancellors have been distinguished Guyanese or West Indian - E.M. Duke, S.S. Ramphal, S.S. Insanally, William Demas and Arthur Lewis. Juma’s Chancellorship was a departure from this pattern of choice from within the region and opens up wide possibilities.

This is not the place for a critique of UG; that has been done before, sometimes acrimoniously. However there is general agreement that the overarching need of the institution is for additional funds which given continuing budgetary constraints cannot easily be expected from government but must be secured from the private sector and overseas sources, including in particular international agencies and foundations. Should not the Chancellor be seen therefore as a fund-raiser? There is no heresy in this suggestion, it is apparently the practice in the case of several well known American universities.

In keeping with this line of thinking UG might look beyond the traditional overseas sources in North America and Europe, to the rapid wealth-generating Far East, in particular to Japan and Malaysia. Malaysia already has large investments in Guyana including Barama. Japan is funding the Caricom Secretariat building and the new New Amsterdam Public Hospital. There is a heavy imbalance in trade in Japan’s favour between Caricom and Japan. Should it not be possible for the two Foreign Ministries, Japan and Guyana, to identify a Chief Executive from Japanese industry who might find it challenging and rewarding to be Chancellor of a small university in the Caribbean? Japan is after all the sponsor and location of the UN University.

One is aware that ideas outlined above could be difficult to implement but they are advanced here as a challenge to urgently necessary new thinking about the choice of Chancellor.

But clearly the attraction of international funds is not wholly a matter of the personal prestige and skills of the fund raiser. UG must also seek to acquire an image as a small, quality university. One way of attracting such status may be to become an important centre for research. Of this more later. Another way is to piggyback on an appropriate prestigious institution. The obvious choice in this respect is the regional university, the University of the West Indies with its three campuses at Mona in Jamaica, St Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago and Cave Hill in Barbados and in addition several university centres. UWI ranks with the WI cricket team as the best known internationally of regional institutions. When the deepening of the relationship with UWI is discussed it is too often conceived in terms of UG becoming another campus of UWI but that is not now a realistic proposal in terms of how the institutions have developed and the disparities in resources, range of teaching skills and emoluments and other basic areas. While there was clearly at that time major advantage in the late President Jagan’s decision to go it alone in establishing UG, it seemed certain that at some time later there would have been a UWI campus in Guyana. But there is no value in hankering after the past.

However it might be possible to attempt forms of partial integration eg, the integration of the faculties of agriculture across the region. It has long been a Caricom policy objective that the region should try to reduce its enormous food imports foreign exchange bill. An arrangement of integrated faculties or departments of agriculture should be in a good position to attract international funds for new infrastructure, equipment, travel, training and upgrading of staff, research projects and the building of extension and communication links with the farming communities. Such partial integration which might also be considered as between departments and between institutes could facilitate valuable interchange of staff, equalisation of emoluments, joint organisation of research and so on.

Fundamental to the question of image is the volume and quality of research. A former Head of the London School of Economics (LSE) Professor Ashworth has pointed out “that the solution to the quality assurance problem lay in giving universities the formal responsibilities for carrying out the fundamental research that society needed... the institutions in which this revolutionary new method of obtaining socially useful knowledge was institutionalised not only would benefit society but the universities would have a uniquely effective method of assessing the intellectual vitality of their teachers.”

The latest commission to enquire into and recommend on UG, the Presidential Commission appointed by the late President Jagan and which reported in May 1996, had drawn attention to the constraints on staff research in a situation in which they are overwhelmed by graduate teaching. There are in addition the constraints of lack of supporting resources and avenues of publication. In this connection UG already has one internationally recognised journal “Transition”; funding should be sought for its expansion. But UG researchers should be encouraged to look further afield for publication. Clem Seecharran, the Guyanese historian based at a North London university has had two publications issued by the UWI press with another in the offing.

However there is a recommendation in the field of research which that Commission made which could be of great practical value. It is as follows: “Ask Government to make all research and consulting contracts through UG, with principal investigator and overhead specified.”

While the Presidential Commission’s recommendation may be considered over-reaching it points to an area of enormous potential. Unquestionably, there is a significant volume of research which is undertaken or commissioned by government ministries and agencies and which is often executed by foreign personnel or agencies. To involve UG in such research should not be seen as only a source of augmenting UG’s income. UG could provide two useful components which are not easily available in the Ministry or Agency namely supervision and continuity. The huge resources which Iwokrama once had were largely “consumed” by expatriate experts. While there was indeed some linkage with UG it seems clear that the arrangement was insufficient to ensure that such research as might have been undertaken is available in Guyana in a way in which it can be built upon.

UG’s position would itself be strengthened if there is co-ordination in research. There have been foreign scientists who have sought and gained permission to visit the Guyana hinterland but UG is often not in a position to monitor the scientific activities of such visitors so as to ensure that notebooks and specimens are lodged and that artefacts are not arbitrarily taken away. In such projects the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and other Ministries with hinterland areas could play useful roles.

Finally - but this must turn on a policy decision - to elicit the interest of international foundations and agencies, it would be useful to project Guyana itself as a vast reservoir of research opportunities not only in the natural sciences and in anthropology but in history and nation-building and the problems of a small state in a changing international order.

The new Pro-Chancellor who is to be appointed may be given special responsibility for the development of the research side of this including the search for funds for additional infrastructure and staff.

The problems which UG confronts are reflective of the problems of the whole society. They include the acute lack of funds for development and the lack of skilled personnel in both the public and private sectors. There is the likelihood that UG can lessen its dependence on the public treasury by attracting to itself funds for both the public and private sectors especially through the production of graduates who meet skilled manpower needs through degrees which combine academic instruction with components of professional training.

The many commissions and experts who have over the years studied and assessed the role of UG may well have advanced some of the ideas outlined above. However this reiteration may stimulate discussion as UG seeks to differentiate itself into an essential role in a Guyana in rapid transition.