The unions’ primary agenda is to ensure that UG creates and equips students with quality education
The Kaieteur News Editorial of Sunday July 8th, 2012, titled “Higher Education at UG?” unfortunately has completely missed the thrust of the Unions’ position in the recent industrial action at the University of Guyana.
It is an absurdity to suggest that the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association, the University of Guyana Workers Union and the University of Guyana Students’ Society are fighting to ‘get a roof repaired and painting some buildings’.
The editorial, along with the recent falsities attributed to the Director of Berbice Campus in several daily newspapers has prompted this admittedly long, but we believe necessary, response. While the immediate cause of the industrial action was the dismissal of three lecturers on what appeared to be purely political premises by a Council dominated by political appointees, the action merely served to illustrate the governance aspect of the grave, multifaceted crisis that faces the UG.
The Unions’ primary agenda is to ensure that the UG creates, generates and equips students with quality, relevant education that would equip Guyana with the thinking and the tools to transform our society. For us, this cannot be achieved without a university that can produce high quality research, but this itself requires a number of critical elements including a highly trained faculty, a modern and governance structure, adequate finance and proper facilities such as classrooms and labs.
Our agitation consequently is intended to move the university from its present state and improve its functioning as a national university that is compatible with national goals and comparable with other tertiary institutions in the region.
To do so we have sought to stimulate a national conversation on the very idea of national University and to secure a national consensus that notwithstanding its ‘warts and all’, the University of Guyana is a national resource that deserves to be urgently rescued.
We ourselves recognize the salience of research, sought the input of university stakeholders and compiled a dossier that explicitly articulates where we are, where we want to go and how we need to get there (see attached). Briefly, we have argued that the following steps must be taken:
There must be improvements in the overall Governance and Administration of the University through:
1. A review and update of UG’s Acts and Statutes to ensure autonomy;
2. An overhaul the University Council;
3. A review UG’s organisational structure;
In order to consistently generate relevant research and produce high quality students, the University must attract and retain highly trained faculty. This can be achieved through:
1. A review of salaries and emoluments and adjustment of same to make them competitive with comparable qualifications in public and private sector locally and with comparable regional institutions abroad;
2. Urgently fund staff development for junior academics to upgrade their qualifications as currently the number of 1st degree lecturers is just in excess of 1/3 of total staff;
3. The provision of adequate support for scholarly research.
The must be improvements to the University’s infrastructure and proper maintenance as the current facilities were designed to cater for a total student intake of 1000 and the current annual student population is more than four times that amount. Consequently we demand:
1. Sufficient and properly equipped laboratory and library facilities;
2. Improved classroom space including ones that can cater for large class sizes;
3. Improved sanitary facilities.
The University needs to move towards the recognition and accreditation of all its programmes:
1. The University must improve its quality and the perception of its quality by the adoption of ANQAS (A New Quality Assurance System) and the appointment of a full time quality assurance officer.
Increased Funding is critical and prudent Financial Management are critical for growth and development and in this vein we are recommending:
1. An increase in the annual public subvention and its timely disbursement to the University;
2. The University Council fulfill its mandate to source and provide adequate funding as required by the UG Act and Statues and refrain from political interference in academic matters over which they have little competence;
3. The removal of restrictions to the university’s ability to access independent funding ;
4. The implementation of realistic fee structures for students and provision of scholarships and bursaries to ensure all students can access university education;
5. To craft strategies to secure endowment funding;
6. UG be allowed to control its capital budget;
7. A review of the processes for financial management so as to improve efficiency and achieve fairness and equity in finance allocation.
The University must enter and equip students for the Information Age. The campuses must therefore:
1. Provide equipment and other resources to enhance the innovativeness and creativity of teaching;
2. Increase access to information;
3. Improve storage of information and communication;
4. Improve mechanisms for students to access technology
5. Provide additional computer resources and spaces for students;
6. Improve library resources – online and other
Student Services and Student Life must be enhanced. These can be achieved through:
1. Provision of counseling, tutoring and enhanced medical facilities;
2. The provision of improved accommodation for out of Georgetown students;
3. The promotion of social, cultural, recreational and extra-curricular activities;
4. The establishment of a career and employment centre;
5. Improved security on campus.
There needs to be improve quality of research and community engagement by the:
1. Establishment of a Leadership and Intellectual Development programme;
2. The establishment of Think Tanks on Natural Resources Management, Social Problems;
3. The construction of Art and Cultural Spaces and;
4. The promotion of Outreach/Extension and Service Learning Activities.
The latter set of needs/recommendations speaks directly to what we interpret as the thrust of the Kaieteur News editorial, specifically, what are and how relevant are the research outputs of the faculty of the University. It is entirely false to state that the research output of staff ‘will not take up a single type written page’ and I would urge that the editor perform his duties with the same degree of diligence as he urges the Unions to do.
The research output of academic staff is readily available as it is collected annually by the Personnel Division. Any deficiency in research output must also be placed within a context of virtually no support offered to staff to facilitate their research, the comparatively large number of lecture hours per week of UG staff versus academics in other universities and the high percentage of lecturers with only a first degree which means they have not been adequately trained to conduct research independently.
Additionally, although some relevant innovative research in the technological and science streams has been conducted, there is however no conduit between the innovations and the potential client beneficiaries nor are there intellectual property arrangements in place to protect the rights of inventors, so much of this languishes at UG. It is also instructive to note that UG staff also conduct much relevant nationally useful research, particularly in the social sciences. However, they are contracted by international funding agencies that pay the usually very high costs associated with conducting said research.
The insufficiency of research output is not unique to UG however. Although the facilities offered to academic staff at UWI dwarf those offered to UG faculty, an analysis of the research output of staff was raised as a source of concern in an October 2003 report, ‘Strategies Challenges Facing UWI Mona.’ The report noted that “Publications per-capita at UWI, Mona are less in 2001-2002 than they were in 1970/1971. Further, whereas in 1981, UWI, Mona produced 0.025% of global publications captured in citation-linked databases, by 2002 that proportion had declined to 0.02%.” This situation was flagged as one that needed to be urgently remedied by UWI and from all reports has not changed appreciably to date, although additional resources were allocated to research. The UWI example illustrates that research is underfunded and output is consequently negatively affected in the region however the simple injection of funds, if not at the appropriate levels or with the necessary capacity building) will not produce the required change.
Continuing to underfund research will not enhance the publication record of UG staff, but in fact will have the opposite impact. This is not a chicken and egg situation.UG faculty are already producing miracles with no resources available, and I’m confident they would quickly produce an enviable research and publication record if the necessary infrastructural and monetary support are provided.
Finally, the Unions had long decided to investigate the possibility of publicising the research of faculty on campus. We hope that our national newspapers, including the Kaiteur News would be gracious enough to facilitate us in this regard. We believe that there is a genuine interest nationwide in improving the University and we invite all stakeholders to join us and bring about the requisite changes.
Patsy Francis, UGSSA President
Bruce Haynes, UGWU President
Mellissa Ifill, UGSSA Vice-President