The current debate in the Guyanese press on the question as to whether the University of Guyana (UG) should emphasise teaching or research, is a question as old as the medieval university itself.
But, what is relatively new (and more germane within the context of the Guyanese reality) is the role of a modern university in national development.
Within the past 35 years or more, Guyanese have been confronted with two major questions at the tertiary or higher education level.
First: Can the University of Guyana be made more relevant to the Guyanese society without destroying the “idea” of the university?
Second: In what ways can the University of Guyana contribute to cultural, economic and social development in Guyana? I would address the second question first.
There are several ways in which the University of Guyana can contribute to national development. Among them are: (a) direct action or position taken by the university as a corporate institution; (b) social policy pursued indirectly as a by-product of discharging normal university responsibilities; (c) social change that normally flows from the work of university professionals allied with other professionals; (d) the influence for change exercised by the university as a free community constitutionally concerned with what could be rather than with what is; (e) the university graduate.
In search of an adequate answer to the first question: Can the University of Guyana be made more relevant to the Guyanese society without destroying the “idea” of the university?
I would suggest that we postpone debate on either/or questions (such as teaching versus research), until certain assessment (stock-taking) studies have been completed.
Assessment studies of the University of Guyana and its environment are essential if we hope to have a realistic idea about the direction in which the University of Guyana should evolve.
Further, we also need to bear in mind that as the only university in Guyana, all 200,000 square kilometers of the land space is the University of Guyana campus.
This places an extraordinarily heavy responsibility on the shoulders of the institution. It is a responsibility that the university can only evade or abrogate at its own peril.
I propose that the university embark on a three-phase exercise consisting of a series of analyses/assessments.
The first phase should involve: (a) an historical analysis that would illustrate how the institution arrived at its present condition; (b) an environmental needs assessment/analysis within a national development context; and, (c) a SWOT analysis or organisational assessment of the university.
A meta-analysis of (a), (b), and (c) above, should identify deficits or gaps between institutional outcomes and environmental/national development needs (cultural, economic and social).
The second phase will comprise the determination of: (a) available resources and the probability of obtaining needed resources, which might include budget re-allocations to reflect national development priorities; (b) the capability of the institution to bridge the gaps between institutional outcomes and environmental needs over the shorter, medium and longer terms.
In light of the findings/revelations of phases 1 and 2, a review of the institutional mission or mandate may be necessary.
The University of Guyana may, urgently, need to consider whether it can continue to try to achieve comprehensiveness and thus perpetuate weakness and mediocrity, or whether it should leave much undone and concentrate in areas of strength in terms of a national development context, thus ensuring good institutional health and permitting the university to define its own strong future.
It is during this phase that: a) critical issues are defined and prioritized;
b) strategic loci where inputs would have a multiplying effect and result in a maximization of impact are identified; and c) questions of appropriate emphases (teaching versus research, pure versus applied, might be more profitably considered.
We call the above a form of institutional research/strategic planning.
However, the process is described, we need to know where we are, and what is our destination.
This kind of thinking is essential in order to map possible routes and determine how best to get there.
Clarence O. Perry
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