Mar 21, 2013 Editorial
The question of increased fees at the University of Guyana is once more rearing its head, much to the consternation of those attending the institution. When the fee issue came up Guyanese were up in arms against paying for their higher education. It mattered not that they were being trained locally to accept jobs in foreign lands.
The government had said some years before that education would be free from nursery to University. That was part of the socialist mantra adopted by Guyana; and it worked up until the succeeding government recognized that it could not fund the education package for university education.
By then many Guyanese had qualified themselves and had taken off to countries where they were certain that they would be better remunerated. In the end the fees were introduced. People pursuing the social sciences were being asked to pay US$1,000 per year. Those pursuing legal studies and medicine were asked to pay US$4,000 per year.
Since the Guyana dollar was legal tender the equivalent was paid in local currency. At the time the exchange rate was lower in Guyana dollar terms. Since then the local currency has deteriorated to levels that would make the cost of University education very high to the locals.
For example, back when the fees were introduced local students were asked to pay $127,000 per year to pursue studies in the Social Sciences and $528,000 for the legal and medical studies. Despite the devaluation the Guyanese students keep paying the same fees as their predecessors did. It meant that for them, education was cheaper.
One of the things that the government prides itself on is the way it has improved the living standards of the people. It talks about the massive percentage hike in wages and salaries; it talks about increased disposable incomes and it talks about enhanced balance of payments.
However, the fact remains that many students cannot pay fees commensurate with the movement of the local currency against the United States dollar. As things are the cost of the Social Studies programme would have been $206,000 per annum and the law and medical programmes, $824,000 per year.
The government sees these figures and balks. It cannot let the public see the real rate of devaluation.
The question of firmly linking the local currency to any external currency is not something that the government is likely to do when it comes to education. In fact, in the laws, fines that were realistic when they were first introduced are now meaningless. For example, when Desmond Hoyte introduced what he called draconian legislation to combat the drug trade a fine of $30,000 was exorbitant, so exorbitant that sections of civil society thought that it was too draconian. At the time $30,000 was equivalent to US$5,000.
Traffic fines are even more ludicrous. They are so infinitesimal that the offenders prefer to slip a “change” to the arresting officer than to spend that time waiting in the courts to have the matter heard. Sometimes they pay more than what the fine would have been.
Recently, the government moved to have the fines more meaningful by adjusting them upwards. However, the same thing has not been done for the tuition fees. Indeed, some parents pay more than the present university fees per annum for their children to receive extra lessons.
But the government says that it is mindful of the cost to future generations. That comment would hold water since graduates from the university are not guaranteed employment in the public sector. In the past graduates in the public sector would have installments deducted from their salaries. These days employment is not guaranteed so the likelihood of the government collecting on its investment is reduced. The government actually grants loans to students pursuing university studies.
The bottom line is that the government finds itself in a quandary. Already the university is signaling that it needs to hike fees if it is to be able to attract a better quality of lecturers and to offer a service commensurate with a university education.
But the government is mindful of a backlash; it is concerned that the people would accuse of pricing education out of their reach.
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