Kaieteur News – The President has promised free university education by 2025. But this does not necessarily mean that the government should be providing free education at the University of Guyana.
That institution should be privatized. Successive governments have tried and failed to reform it. It is simply impossible for the University of Guyana to be reformed.
The problem with the University of Guyana is not management. The problem is also not politics, even though it is a hotbed of opposition politics and the political conflicts deter change. The problem with the university is that it is under-funded.
This shortage of funding does not represent a deficit of government spending at the University of Guyana. The government pumps sufficient funds into the institution.
At present funding comes from government through a massive subvention and secondly through student fees, the majority of which are financed from a Student Loan Fund administered by the Ministry of Finance.
The greatest problem that affects the financing of the university is the virtual guarantee that the university has from the government’s loan agency. What this policy allows is for things to remain the same at the university by failing to stimulate competition amongst the various programmes offered.
Eventually this loan agency is going to end up in serious problems because the moratorium period that is offered before students begin to repay their students’ loan is too long with the result that there is likely to be a high rate of default.
Obviously, the education system as a whole cannot be subject to market forces. But it must be recognized that university education should not be free in Guyana since only a small percentage of the total population moves toward this form of education. As such, there is a strong case for having university education more subject to the wiles of the market.
What the University of Guyana needs is for the various faculties to be divided among schools with each school being run by a semi-autonomous management and setting its own fees. These schools would have to pay a rent of lease for the use of the facilities at Turkeyen.
Once this happens, and students should be required to pay an economic cost for their education; the financing of the university is going to improve and with it will come an end to the unending problems that the university faces.
Will the students be able to pay? Of course they will, except that it will mean a government guaranteed student loan for only a portion of the fees, with the students having to make some down payment toward their programme.
With higher fees will come greater resources to do and have the things that a good university should have, including better pay for staff. You cannot ask for better pay without higher fees and it would be unfair for the government to bear the burden of these higher fees. However, for these changes to be generated, the government has to bring on board persons with ideas on how to organize a university along the lines of market fees, rather than sticking to this archaic model of a university financed by the government and co-financed by students through a student loan arrangement also with the government.
With a new model in mind, the university should at least be closed for one year so that it can be reorganized, existing staff retired, and a new organizational structure consistent with a university of various schools to be put in place.
But the government has promised free education and therefore the very idea of students paying fees is not consistent with the promise of free university education.
So this brings us to another option. Education is now being globalized. Programmes from foreign universities are now being offered at very low costs to foreign students through online education.
The government will find that is far cheaper to provide students with online tertiary education, such as that which is offered under the Guyana Online Academy of Learning (GOAL).
Instead of spending millions on each student just to provide a first degree, the government should consider the GOAL model as a future model for free tertiary education in Guyana. By doing so, it will find that it will save billions of dollars and educate far more students than is presently done by the University of Guyana.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of this newspaper and its affiliates.)
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