“We would like to see more full timers but we’re still not competitive enough …” Those were the words of Vincent Alexander, Registrar of the University of Guyana as he discussed the shortage of lecturers that has plagued the University since it’s opening for the 2010/2011 academic year.
Every year as the University opens its doors to accommodate its 5,000 strong student body it loses lecturers, albeit not permanently.
The nature of the profession however means that these lecturers are required to take a one year sabbatical from their teaching duties every six years.
As such there will always be cases where there will be lecturers going off and leaving a gap in the ranks. Lecturers also get the opportunity to go abroad for ‘staff development’ where they continue their studies with the intention of eventually returning to the University to teach.
Mr. Alexander gave a conservative estimate that there were at least 10 to 12 courses without lecturers at the Turkeyen campus.
There is another form of leave called ‘study leave’ that usually sees a lecturer taking one or two months away from the University. He noted that in some instances where it appeared that there was no one to take a course the actual issue was that the lecturers were on leave which unfortunately coincided with the first four weeks of the semester, a situation caused by the fact that the University has finally managed to restore its regular schedule by bringing forward their opening by one month to the beginning of September, a feat Mr. Alexander said that they have been trying to accomplish for at least three years now.
He pointed out that at the beginning of this semester the University made 32 offers for academic positions. Of those 32 offers, 16 were accepted.
He said that the University’s inability to attract and keep a sufficiently large teaching staff lies mainly in the fact that it is becoming harder and harder to provide the incentives for these academics to spend their time and energy teaching when they can earn far more in other areas.
“We need to provide more monetary and non-monetary benefits.”
In the University’s Strategic Plan which is posted on the University’s official website at http://www.uog.edu.gy there was an examination of the university’s pay rates. The rates, which were compared to those of other institutions in countries with similar consumer price indices and costs of living, showed that Guyana ranks lowest on the scale.
The University of Guyana was contrasted against salary structures for just one category of lecturers in three of the University of the West Indies (UWI) campuses, which are all in different CARICOM countries and with the Anton de Kom University of Suriname.
Another area of comparison was within the Private Sector at equivalent levels of qualification. There are six categories of lecturers in the University of Guyana—Assistant Lecturer, Lecturer I, Lecturer II, Senior Lecturer, Reader and Professor on the basis of rank.
The report contrasted the positions of Assistant Lecturer, Lecturer I and Lecturer II with management positions in the private sector, under the headings junior, middle and senior management.
The comparison showed that while the gap (always in favour of the private sector position) was about $10,000 between a junior management position and an Assistant Lecturer, it widened to $30,000 between middle management and Lecturer II. But it was the $45,000 disparity between the basic salaries of senior management positions and those of Lecturer IIs that was most arresting.
The remuneration is not the only place where the position tends to fall short according to Mr. Alexander. There was once a time when University lecturers were able to get duty free concessions on their vehicles. No longer is that the case.
Prior to 1992 academics had that privilege but today only lecturers who commute all the way to Berbice (and who have also signed three-year contracts) are granted these concessions.
Another non-monetary benefit that the University is unable to provide to its lecturers is that of Staff Development.
According to Mr. Alexander the practice at the University is that after a certain number of years on staff, a lecturer is given leave to purse the next higher academic qualification in their chosen field, ideally with these studies being funded by the University, then that lecturer will return their services to the University.
In recent times, however, the University has been unable to find the funds to make necessary repairs much less pay for lecturers to go off and earn higher degrees. This does not mean that they have abandoned Staff Development entirely however.
According to Mr. Alexander, the University pursues collaborative efforts with other organizations and institutions that see its staffers enhancing their qualifications and therefore enhancing the quality of the education that they offer students.
He pointed to the fact that there are three lecturers currently pursuing their Doctorates from a Belgian University ‘split-site’. That is, they are currently working here in Guyana on their dissertations. There are another three to four lecturers pursuing doctorates at the University of the West Indies, and at least three more at a university in Ohio.
These do not include those persons who have been awarded competitive scholarships to attend universities on their own. These persons leave the country and when their intelligence and abilities become apparent they are usually snapped up by Universities and companies looking for promising graduates.
According to Mr. Alexander this is how a large number of the University’s lecturers are lost, since they usually take up these offers and never return to teach.
Other issues that tend to make it hard for the University to attract persons are that the conditions on campus are not conducive to their comfort and well being.
According to Alexander the teaching and staff areas need to be improved and there are little or no facilities to undertake research at a level that will let lecturers stay on campus longer as they pursue opportunities for personal development while at the University.
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