New political parties differ on free tertiary education

ANUG presidential candidate Ralph Ramkarran

– but agree that funding for expansion of tertiary education is a key

AT a time when the major political parties in Guyana –- the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) –- are touting the reintroduction of free tertiary education, some of the country’s new political parties are divided on the issue, but have agreed that substantial amount of funds must be pumped into the University of Guyana to bring it on par with regional and international institutions.

Article 27 of the Constitution of Guyana states: “Every citizen has the right to a free education from nursery to university, as well as at non-formal places where opportunities are provided for education and training.”

LJP presidential candidate Lenox Shuman

However, presidential candidate for A New and United Guyana (ANUG), Ralph Ramkarran, said he would caution against promising Guyanese free tertiary education.
“I would be very cautious in promising free education at the University of Guyana at this time. We had free education and we saw where it led us, so we need to be cautious in how we approach that and approach it when resources are available,” the ANUG presidential candidate said.

Ramkarran was among presidential candidates of five political parties that participated in a debate organised by the University of Guyana unions, and Move on Guyana, Inc. The Citizenship Initiative (TCI), The New Movement (TNM) and the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP) were the other political parties that participated in the debate at the University of Guyana Education Lecture Theatre on Thursday.

The ANUG presidential candidate, however, said that the University of Guyana should be repositioned to meet the demands of the petroleum sector and the environmental sector. Should ANUG be elected to the National Assembly at the March 2 General and Regional Elections, it would ensure that the capacity of the country’s premier tertiary institution is enhanced to cater to the needs of the petroleum and environmental sectors. “I would be interested in advancing and enhancing the resources at the University of Guyana,” Ramkarran said, while noting that though subjects such as History, English, and Sociology are important, the future of Guyana will depend on scientific studies.

But for TNM, Guyana with a population of less than one million people, education from nursery to university must be free. Its presidential candidate Dr. Asha Kissoon said she has seen the plight of the Guyanese people.

“I have seen many times that there are youth out there struggling, asking for grants, asking for scholarships and they can’t get it, so with such a small population, The New Movement would prioritise [education], and say, it needs to be free,” Dr. Kissoon said. That aside, she said TNM strongly believes that the University of Guyana needs to be brought on par with international standards, and in doing so, lecturers should receive better remuneration, and more branches should be established, particularly in the hinterland. “That would benefit our students and also open the door for research and development. We have students right here who are developing electronic arms but because of lack of funding, nothing is being done for them,” she posited. Dr. Kissoon said to complement the programmes offered at the university, other training facilities ought to be put in place.

Lenox Shuman, LJP presidential candidate, in his remarks alluded to the fact that the constitution provides for free education from nursery to university. “Article 27 of the Constitution of Guyana talks about free education, I think Article [27] (1) says education must be free for all children from nursery to university or any institution that they choose to go,” he pointed out.

In creating provisions for free education, Article 27 addresses the need for a curriculum that is diverse. Article 27 (2) states: “It is the duty of the State to provide education that would include designed to reflect the cultural diversities of Guyana and disciplines that are necessary to prepare students to deal with social issues and to meet the challenges of the modern technological age.” As such, Shuman said for LJP there is no reason to “reinvent the wheel,” but rather to operationalise the provisions already in the constitution. Like the TNM’s presidential candidate, Shuman agreed that providing free education should be a priority for any government or parliament.

TNM presidential candidate Dr. Asha Kissoon

Meanwhile, Change Guyana presidential candidate Robert Badal underscored the importance of ensuring that the University of Guyana is adequately funded. Badal said based on interactions with students, it would appear that basic amenities such as fans and AC units are lacking. As the country advances, he said it is important to upgrade the university. Like Ramkarran and Dr. Kissoon, Badal said it is also important to invest in science and technology.

“Science and Technology are areas that a Change Guyana government would focus significantly on because when you look at experiences of countries all over the world, it is science and technology that have caused them to leap forward,” Badal said. He too underscored the importance of research. “That area is significantly lacking, there is no government programme to stimulate research, there are no private sector grants to direct research,” he posited.

For the TCI presidential candidate Rondha-Ann Lam, while STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics –- is important, programmes such as Arts and Culture have suffered for too long in Guyana, and as such, TCI would direct its focus there, with respect to tertiary education.