The Turkeyen tragedy
January 25, 2007
No one who is familiar with the faltering academic standards and squalid physical conditions at the University of Guyana's central Turkeyen campus should have been surprised at the desperate tone of Vice-Chancellor Dr James Rose's address to the 40th convocation congregation.
The pitiable quality of tertiary education in this country is a national tragedy and Dr Rose's remarks did nothing to erase public scepticism about UG's decline. He did make it clear, however, that much more needs to be done if the Guyana Government is to transform UG into a centre of academic excellence and if this country is ever to compete with other Caribbean economic 'tigers' such as Trinidad and Barbados. UWI's campuses there have become platforms for the new administrative, managerial, scientific and entrepreneurial Ã©lites that are leading their countries' economies into the new millennium.
Things are different at Turkeyen. Dr Rose warned that UG needed more resources to improve its standards in an environment that was becoming more challenging nationally, regionally and internationally. Guyanese society, he said, must guard against the "sad waste" of human resources by creating adequate employment possibilities for UG graduates or other nations would.
A few years ago at another convocation, Dr Rose had lamented UG's "fragile" financial situation which the Ministry of Finance aggravated by slashing the skimpy state subventions. As a result, Rose repined, UG found difficulty "in attracting and retaining better qualified staff; expanding the physical plant especially in providing more lecture room space; retooling our laboratories; modernizing our library; and engaging in a vigorous staff development programme." He also bemoaned the limited knowledge of UG's many inexperienced lecturers, their responsibility for teaching extra-large classes and advanced-year courses, and their reluctance to engage in independent research. Nothing seems to get better at Turkeyen. In his day, Professor Harold Lutchman, another Vice-Chancellor, criticised the quality of lecturers - some of whom saw their task as exclusively one of delivering classroom lectures and not to research - as well as UG's many "imponderables" such as the state of the library, the materials with which students have to work, and the quality of the instruction that they receive.
Even before Professor Lutchman's day, late Vice-Chancellor Professor Dennis Craig complained that conditions at UG were "bad." The University's state subvention, he said, was always inadequate, covering only essentials such as salaries, and what was left was inadequate for maintenance, with the consequent results.
In an effort to attract better-qualified staff and to retain good lecturers, Professor Craig achieved the rare feat of doubling academics' salaries. But the Administration eventually drowned him in what he called "a flood of uncivilised behaviour." The Ministry of Finance withheld funding for the University, precipitating a financial crisis, and the Ministry of Labour broke the law, creating confusion and forcing him to resign.
At present, the Administration seems to be blind to the shoddy conditions on campus, deaf to the pleas for help and dumb in enunciating a practical plan to move UG out of the slough. Its simple strategy has been to control the 21-member Council and, hence, the all-powerful Finance and General Purposes Committee, through its numerous political and official placemen. In this way, the Council cheerfully preserves UG's status quo rather than leading it on an independent course of academic development. There is no happy ending on the horizon. As the Administration consolidates its control, UG languishes as a third-rate tertiary institution of dubious repute and diminishing international stature.
The real tragedy is that, after so much has been said by so many for so long, the prospects of the Administration's changing course anytime soon are as unlikely as ever.