Despite the adversity, UG is fully recognized across the world
February 16, 2004
DR. SEELOCHAN Beharry remarked in a recent letter to the press that the UG Chemistry degree would not gain international recognition. I responded, on behalf of the University of Guyana, by providing evidence to establish that the unqualified admission and very good performance of UG science graduates in international post graduate programs were proof of the acceptance and worth of the UG degrees. I find it necessary at this time to offer a further clarification on this subject because of a letter from Ms. Joycelyn Williams, published in Stabroek News of December 25, 2003. Miss Williams hopes I am not using my "debating skills" to "cloud reality".
But what is the reality? Poor funding has kept UG functioning below the high standards to which it aspires; it has negatively affected facilities, equipment, labs, salaries and staffing. Added to that, there are cases of weak programs, badly conducted courses, delinquent lecturers, insufficient research, faulty management and a number of national problems. In other words, while there are a few issues peculiar to UG and to Guyana, the institution is subject to a general inhibiting condition attendant upon several Third World universities.
Partly because of this, there is a perception that UG is totally threadbare in all departments; that academic standards are poor, staff is under-qualified, administration is in chaos and the university is incapable of meeting world standards. However, to tell the public that this is true is to cloud the reality. The reality is that despite the adversity, the University of Guyana is fully recognized by the best institutions across the world; its graduates gain unqualified entry into Oxford, Cambridge and Cornell. Despite the problems of low salaries and those lecturers who do not measure up, there is still a strong corps of well qualified staff on the UG campus who are committed to international academic standards.
If we do not let that be known to the public we are clouding reality.
But, in the Caribbean, we have inflicted with such a profound condition of self-doubt that Guyanese refuse to believe that anything good can come out of Guyana. It is so difficult to shake this chronic lack of self belief, that when the facts are presented, supported by compelling documented evidence, they say it cannot be true, it must be propaganda.
Miss Williams claims that the student's success has nothing has nothing to do with their UG training. She writes "There will always be those who will do well in spite of the facilities, and in spite of a generally second best scenario". Others have also attributed the success to "the ideology of perseverance, resilience and survival" possessed by "a majority of Guyanese" overseas. "All those graduates that Mr. Creighton listed as being all over the world studying in top universities made it on their own, and aren't even coming back".
First, I was responding to a claim that the labs were so deficient that the training received by the chemistry students could not stand anywhere. My evidence revealed that this could not be true. The evidence was not restricted to that minority of Distinction high flyers who will excel anywhere; it was based on the performance of practically all who go on to further study in science, agriculture and technology. They gain entry into the world's best post-graduate programs in which they always do very well. No amount of Guyanese "perseverance, resilience and survival" will get anyone into a graduate course in Chemistry, but a Guyanese degree in Chemistry will. Neither will those admirable Guyanese qualities allow anyone to cope in any post-graduate Chemistry program but the Guyanese undergraduate course in Chemistry is strong enough to do it.
Secondly, it is irrelevant whether they went overseas on UG scholarships or whether they "made it on their own", the relevant point is that they went armed with UG degrees. Nor is it relevant to this argument whether or not they return to Guyana, the point is where they got their first degree training and how they perform.
There is still further proof of UG's international standing. The University of Guyana is a member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and the UG Vice Chancellor is a member of the AUC Council on which he represents Guyana, Cyprus, Malta, Mauritius and all Caribbean universities. UG is a member of UNAMAZ, the compendium of recognized universities in South America and Latin America, and the UG Vice Chancellor is a Vice President of UNAMAZ. UG has also been a member of LASPAU, an organization that administers scholarships to American universities. UG also has exchange programs with a number of universities in Canada and the USA, which are larger and wealthier than UG, but the institutions treat each other as academic equals.
Then there is the unfortunate reality that UG graduates for export. A high percentage of the graduates use their UG qualification to get jobs overseas, and this would never be possible if those foreign countries did not recognize the UG certification.
All these are facts about the international academic status of Guyana's university and whether or not Guyanese are willing to accept them, they are not going to be wished away.
Miss Williams argues, however, that UG is a "second best" institution and the low percentage of foreign students enrolled at Turkeyen is proof of this. But the primary reason for this low percentage is that UG has never put any priority or emphasis on the attraction of foreign students. That might well be an error, but UG has never marketed its programs overseas. It is only now planning to do so. St. Georges University in Grenada advertises aggressively for foreign students because it needs them to earn income. UG has been slow in getting into that drive. Despite this, however, foreign students do come in for some programs, especially Law, which has a healthy population of them.
Miss Williams also says that UG must "create a competitive edge" and identifies a very important question: "whether the administration and the government of Guyana will continue to have a policy (or lack of) towards UG that keeps it a second rate institution". Such a policy, per se, is not lacking, although the government will have to face the hard fact that there is a cost to a university of quality. UG is engaged in planning and implementing various strategies for quality control, institutional strengthening, broadening of its resource base, alternative sources of funding, and advantageous local and international links. This is why the Office of Resource Mobilization and Planning has recently been strengthened.
Miss Williams then suggests UG lacks the ability to "create linkages with other sectors such as tourism, etc". She could not have named a better example. UG's powerful contribution to national development includes the leading role it has played in the design of Guyana's tourism policy and the establishment of the newly set up Tourism Authority. UG provides professional training in the field and maintains continuing links with the tourism sector and industry.
The University of Guyana has repeatedly admitted that it has several difficulties, but what are we on campus to do? Are we to capitulate to the problems, decide that we are no good and spend our time eternally bewailing our lack? Because there are difficulties are we to make a continuous career of complaining and allow the critics of UG to publish inaccurate claims to further tarnish the institution? Should we, in the tradition of regional self-contempt, convince ourselves that we are inferior and incapable of producing anything of international value? Or must we, like some of our lecturers, tell everyone that the programs we run are sub-standard and yet continue year after year to run the same sub-standard courses? We have to ask those lecturers, if they believe their courses are no good, how can they deliver them to the students each successive year and contribute nothing to institutional improvement?
What are we to do? The answer lies in none of the above. Where the University is aware of weakness, it is seeking ways to improve them. It is taking constructive criticism seriously. But this admission should not cause UG to allow the impression to be given that it lacks international credibility. The University owes it to the Guyanese public to let them know that it has worth and that proof of this worth can be established by reference to documented evidence. Not to let the public know this is to "cloud reality"