Dec 02, 2020 Letters
The recent press release by UWI Vice-Chancellor Professor Hilary Beckles that the Guyana government is planning to award 20,000 scholarships to Guyanese students to pursue tertiary online education courses at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus, among other training institutions, is quite consistent with the PPP/C’s manifesto promise to create the skillset needed to propel the country’s human resource development strategy. I agree that this initiative could be done in partnership with UG, with UWI having the lead role. Key stakeholders include the Ministries of Education and Public Service. One must understand that public education policy is a prime responsibility of the government.
A few people want to know from where the students will come. Using 2019 examination results, there are 8,371 CSEC graduates, 818 CAPE graduates, and 2,200 UG graduates. For the five-year period, there will be an average of potentially 10,000 qualified students, from among whom the 4,000 number of trainees could be selected. Once again, as seems fashionable and sexy, some critics cannot restrain themselves from advancing a conspiracy theory which is not worthy of any comment.
I believe that the virtual meeting between Guyana’s President Dr. Irfaan Ali and Professor Beckles was to develop a business plan for review and subsequent implementation. This project is still in the exploratory stage and no formal agreement has yet been signed. To calm rattled nerves, Professor Beckles assures: “One of the principal pillars on which the 4th industrial revolution and the knowledge economy rests is university teaching and research.” He continues: “Indeed, the subtitle of The UWI’s Strategic Plan is ‘Revitalizing Caribbean Development,'” inclusive of the building of the important ‘UWI-UG Bridge,’ which is perceived as “a mutual development strategy that will promote regional integration and expand teaching and research capacity.”
While UGWU President, Bruce Haynes, stated that UG was not consulted on this initiative, he nevertheless conceded that the PPP/C government was pushing forth its election manifesto promise. The PPP/C knows that the covenant (promises) they made with the people cannot be broken. To do otherwise would be at their own peril.
UG claimed on 11/20/20 that it has “not ceded its mandate” and took the opportunity to emphasize its role as the national brain trust, “supplying over 70 percent of graduates to Guyana and 30 percent exports,” and mentioned about 1000 online courses that it offers as part of `The University of Guyana Blueprint 2040s,’ an initiative highlighted by Professor Beckles.
PNC/R’s Tabitha Sarabo-Halley has advocated the conduct of a Human Resources Needs Assessment Survey (HRNAS) as a pre-requisite to identify the critical training needs. I have not been able to ascertain what methodology was utilized by government to determine the skillset requirements. However, I learnt that the government is in the process of creating a model.
While a skillset survey would be useful, and a partnership between UG and UWI is important, I would not challenge the academic integrity of UWI. I view UWI’s role in the training not as anti-national but as complementary to UG and as contributing to a deepening of Caribbean integration and being a partner in Guyana’s development. Also, all the PPP/C campaign promises, including the 20,000 scholarships, were subject to a lengthy period of consultation with private individuals and civil society groups.
UG is training thousands of graduates, including scores of government scholarship awardees in fields as diverse as medicine, engineering, natural sciences, management, etc. In another couple of years, all students at UG will become beneficiaries of government scholarships. UG’s role in the country’s development is assured. However, given the current education infrastructure, could UG be in a position shortly to train 4,000 additional students in various disciplines annually?
I posit one caveat here. In the age of globalization, stiff competition, and the knowledge-based economy, employers everywhere are looking to recruit the best candidates to fill positions. In the USA, they grab graduates from MIT, Sandford, Yale, and Harvard; in the UK they grab graduates from Oxford, Cambridge, and LSE; in Canada they grab graduates from University of Toronto and University of British Columbia. Don’t Guyanese believe in academic excellence too? UWI is rated among the top 600 universities in the world and among the top 18 in the Caribbean and Latin America. UG is neither rated among the top 600 in the world nor the top 18 in the Caribbean and Latin America. While I do not believe that the government’s decision to train students at UWI was influenced by rating, UG and other academic institutions should not lose sight of this focus on excellence. Hopefully, UG would grow academically to join the top 18 Universities in the region.
Dr. Tara Singh
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