By Alexis Rodney
THE University of Guyana (UG) in its attempt to stand out as a world-class tertiary institution must be able to attract considerable amounts of support and investment.
By this, all stakeholders, including government, must be willing to invest not only financial resources, but every available reserve that could push it in this direction.
UG Vice-Chancellor (VC) Dr Ivelaw Griffith said the changes being sought for the country’s premier tertiary institution can in no way come about if stakeholders do not invest and has even called on his critics to see the “bigger picture” in what he, and to a wider extent the university’s administration, is trying to achieve.
During an exclusive interview with the Guyana Chronicle on Tuesday, the vice- chancellor, who has been serving in the capacity for just over a year, said the university has been receiving much criticism, especially by persons who have a “myopic view of reality” and who are stuck in the past.
Most of the criticisms, he said, are not based on facts.
“This university is not a university of the 1970s. Over the years, the institution grew in student numbers but not in support system, not in full-time lecturers or administration. If you are going to make improvements at the university, you will have to spend,” Dr Griffith told this newspaper.
The professor had received some criticisms following a multimillion-dollar proposal to the university’s Council earlier this year for the renting of a Camp Street, Georgetown facility, which would have been regarded as a “downtown campus.”
That proposal was shut down by the Council; however, it did approve the establishment of a School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
“The idea of that new campus was to do some innovation and expansion. It was not only to spend money, but to make money. To establish a business development unit,” he said.
The professor said there are still sections of society that are accustomed to “the cheap.”
“The cheap does not earn you respect and investment,” he said, continuing that whether it is the proposed “downtown campus” or any other, “this university has to go beyond Tain and Turkeyen.”
He said the university’s population has grown to some 8,000 students and with that magnitude, the institution continues to endure complications, including sewerage and parking space.
“We are not going to get a changed university until we are willing to invest. We need to be willing to invest. Ask graduates to invest, ask government to invest, businesses and also we have to be innovative,” he maintained.
He made reference to a 2012 Hamilton Associates Report, which addressed the university’s need to pay better salaries, having at least four deputy vice-chancellors and a better support system.
A task force established by Chancellor Dr. Nigel Harris also pointed out similar deficits. While steps are being taken to make the necessary changes, the efforts have been stymied.
“The university must be the enabler of better educational and economical livelihoods. The university must be an agent for change and innovation. It must also be the place that has a developmental role linking Guyana to the rest of the communities including the Caribbean, other parts of South America.”
NEGLECTED AND UNDER-RESOURCED
Professor Griffith said the university is at a point where it has been neglected and under-resourced, noting that there is need for a massive infusion of funding.
That funding, he pointed out, is not expected only from government.
“It has to go beyond government. It has to ask how we can connect with graduates, with Guyanese in the business world and non-Guyanese who have a passion for education who want to give back to the university. We are not going to be able to do those things if we only tinker with what we know, if we are averse to change and innovation.”
According to him, while steps are being taken to upgrade the level of faculties and teaching staff, he said lecturers are not going to come to the university with the salaries it pays. He said a university is not only a teaching institution, but also a business
“Think of being a lecturer, a researcher, where every day your power goes out, not only at the university, but at home.”
He said there are conditions that will have to be improved in the university and society to be able to attract lecturers.
“So part of my strategy was to look to see who in the diaspora would want to come back as I did for less pay, come back and endure circumstances of insufficient labs, power shortages, etc. It’s not about getting new lecturers, it’s about creating the conditions for the qualified lecturers to come, not as a way station to stay for a few months.”