Article 27 of the Constitution dictates that “Every citizen has the right to free education from nursery to university as well as at non-formal places where opportunities are provided for education and training”. But the University of Guyana, the country’s sole university, currently charges its attendees tuition fees.
Those fees are considered too much for some – so much so that in 2016, the university administration decided to publish a list of over 400 individuals who were still indebted to the university, some for many years.
The Free University of Guyana Movement, steered by Elson Lowe, was started last year to advocate for the removal of tuition fees from UG, entirely. In an interview with Kaieteur News, Lowe said that that shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve.
He quoted article 27, explaining that such an achievement would only be necessary to bring the University of Guyana into compliance with Guyana’s Supreme Law.
What usually comes up in these conversations, he said, is the question of where the money will come from to fund instruction, if students aren’t paying.
He has calculated that the cost to make UG free of tuition, according to his calculations, would be about $4B; an amount that he is sure the government will be able to manage, given Guyana’s economic prospects.
Lowe opines that revenue from the country’s budding oil sector, starting up in 2020, could replace the financial burden faced by students.
Lowe said that according to statistics provided by the Bureau of Statistics, only 2.3 percent of Guyana’s population has a Bachelor’s degree. For developed countries, that figure stands at about 30 percent. That means, he said, that Guyana is more than 10 times behind where it needs to be, to provide adequate manpower to perform well on the international stage, and to adequately anticipate the economic boom expected from the budding oil and gas industry.
Lowe has already written to President David Granger and has conversed with several ministers, who have expressed that education is an important issue. Lowe said that this should be a priority for the government.
The movement already has garnered much support from multiple sections of society. Most notably, the Guyana Trade Union Congress and the University of Guyana Student Society have both endorsed the Free UG Movement.
UGSS President, Devta Ramroop, said that education remains a responsibility of the government and is an investment into human resources that will save trouble later in public spending, crime, health and economic growth. She contends, “We can no longer use the excuse of money.”
To assess the opinions of the wider society, the movement has been conducting polls on various fora.
In early April, the poll, at 5000 respondents, showed that 82 percent of respondents support the removal of tuition, while that figure stands at 90 percent for the youth cohort.
To make a show of support to the University administration, the Free UG Movement and the University of Guyana Student Society will be staging a walkout on Friday afternoon.
A release from the UGSS Facebook page states that the walk-out is meant to “show [the society’s] banded support for Free UG and to emphasise that [students’] rights must not be ignored.”
“Business cannot simply go on as usual.”
Lowe told Kaieteur News that the movement for removal of fees isn’t just about making the university free. He said that it is also about “the importance of matching this with opportunities for young people. We believe that freeing the University goes beyond fees, but rather encompasses enabling students to succeed in research work, entrepreneurship and the world of work so that the University of Guyana can assume its rightful place as the beating heart of the Guyanese economy.”
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