A UNIVERSITY OF SCHOOLS IS NEEDED
There is only one solution to the never-ending crisis at the University of Guyana. The government should bite the bullet and close the institution down for one year while it reconstitutes it into a viable and more reputable institution.
The problem with the University of Guyana is not management. The problem is also not politics, even though it is a hotbed of opposition politics and the political conflicts deter change. The problem with the university is that it is under-funded.
This shortage of funding does not represent a deficit of government spending at the University of Guyana. The government pumps sufficient funds into the institution.
The problem is the unwillingness of the university to increase the fees paid by students, a failure to adjust these fees for inflation, the failure to have more differentiated rates for courses, and the long moratorium given to students before they begin to repay their student loans.
For years now the fee structure at the University for many programmes has remained the same. The fees have not been adjusted for inflation.
The original basic fee for most courses was US$1,000 which is far too cheap for any university serious about standards. With the depreciation of the Guyana dollar to an exchange rate of now US$1= G$205, the fees should have at the minimum increased to around $200,000 per year. This has not happened and therefore the expenses of the university will continue to outstrip its revenue stream.
There are obviously some courses in which higher fees are charged. This practice should be encouraged across faculties and programmes with all departments being allowed to set market rates for their courses.
If there was this flexibility in the fee structure, several of the programmes that are presently offered would have had to go since they would have been undersubscribed and would have represented a drain on the resources of the university.
But perhaps the greatest problem that affects the financing of the university is the virtual guarantee that the university has from the government loan agency. What this policy allows is for things to remain the same at the university by failing to stimulate competition amongst the various programmes offered.
Eventually this loan agency is going to end up in serious problems because the moratorium period that is offered before students begin to repay their students’ loan is too long with the result that there is likely to be a high rate of default.
Obviously, the education system as a whole cannot be subject to market forces. But it must be recognized that university education cannot be free in Guyana since only a small percentage of the total population moves toward this form of education. As such there is a strong case for having university education more subject to the wiles of the market.
The days of the free- for- all should cease. Competitive rates could still be charged for quality education but this would entail greater flexibility in the free structure.
What the University of Guyana needs is for the various faculties to be divided among schools with each school being run by a semi-autonomous management and setting its own fees. These schools would have to pay a rent of lease for the use of the facilities at Turkeyen.
Once this happens, and students are required to pay an economic cost for their education; the financing of the university is going to improve and with it will come an end to the unending problems that the university faces.
Will the students be able to pay? Of course they will, except that it will mean a government guaranteed student loan for only a portion of the fees, with the students having to make some down payment toward their programme.
With higher fees will come greater resources to do and have the things that a good university should have, including better pay for staff. You cannot ask for better pay without higher fees and it would be unfair for the government to bear the burden of these higher fees. But for these changes to be generated, the government has to bring on board persons with ideas on how to organize a university along the lines of market fees, rather than sticking to this archaic model of a university financed by the government and co-financed by students through a student loan arrangement also with the government.
With a new model in mind, the university should at least be closed for one year so that it can be reorganized, existing staff retired, and a new organizational structure consistent with a university of various schools to be put in place.