The future of academia in Guyana
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THE English Literature and Linguistics programmes in the Department of Language and Cultural Studies, at the University of Guyana, do a lot of research-based work, where various forms of Guyanese, Caribbean, and world literature, are studied, interrogated, and analysed to a very productive degree. Each year, students read many works of literature and dedicate great time and energy into formulating hypotheses, papers, and presentations that underscore and heighten their knowledge of literature. However, the undergraduate level of study, which should form the beginning, rather than the end of a Guyanese student’s academic pursuits in tertiary education, is severely hampered by the lack of suitable follow-up, graduate programmes at the University of Guyana. This means that there is little viable future for the study of the literary arts beyond the undergraduate level at the University of Guyana. In other words, the lack of Master’s and Doctoral programmes at the University of Guyana in the Department of Language and Cultural Studies prohibits further creative and academic work in all areas of the department, and this, ultimately, does not bode well for the future of academia in these areas, in this country.

It can be argued that academics are working in Guyana who currently engage with these areas of study, and, at a glance, I would agree with such a statement.

However, the underlying and true repercussions of the university’s failure to create and uphold graduate programmes can only be understood if we were to attempt to look into the future, to a Guyana where all of the academics who are currently working have already passed on. Who will be left to continue the study of Guyanese literature and folklore? Who will champion the importance of Creolese? Who will help to promote local art? Who will analyse the stories and poems of the Guyanese authors or stage plays for the people? This future of the country is a dark, empty, and culturally-barren world, devoid of academics, and it is the one that the university is hurtling towards if it does not seek to actively create the necessary programmes of study.

I suppose that some might argue that the country has managed well so far, as the university has not had graduate programmes in various departments for many, many years, and we have still had some local academics trickling in to do the work. To this, my response is threefold.

First, most of the working academics in the country who have a Master’s degree (or higher) have been trained abroad. I consider it something to be ashamed of (rather than to be proud of) when it is suggested that our country will be fine because we rely on mostly Guyanese academics who have been trained overseas. Would it not be better and more productive if people did not have to leave these shores to accumulate knowledge? Would it not make more sense to develop programmes here where people can study, while researching the field, and while also being close to their familial and cultural ties?
Second, academics are working in Guyana or working with Guyanese cultural elements, who are not actually Guyanese. I support foreign academic interest in our country, and I appreciate that international academics bring a lot of wisdom and perspectives that are beneficial to students here and to the various fields they work in. However, I do think that it is necessary for local students who are desirous of doing the same to be allowed to study these elements of local cultural forms, or whatever else they want to pursue. It is disheartening to see local students not being allowed to study their own cultural forms and norms because they have been deprived of the resources and training that would be necessary for them to do so.

Third, some might counter by saying that students with undergraduate degrees can participate in academic work. Of course, this is true, but there is a limit to what one learns at the undergraduate level. If that was a sufficient course of study for everything that is needed in the world, other levels of study beyond that would not exist.

The benefits of local academics are many. In a way, they serve as bridges, binding and connecting the various levels of education, as well as the various strata of people who make up the country. They showcase to the world, the benefits, joys, and wisdom inherent in our cultural forms, whether they be literature or art or religion (if, for now, we’re only limiting ourselves to looking at culture). Furthermore, they are the proponents of academic wealth, thought, and criticism, elements of scholarship with the potential to inspire and influence movements, rebellions, education, philosophy, works of art, and ways of making society a better place, and so the value of academics, particularly those who study local cultural forms cannot, and must not, be dismissed.

It is essential, for the preservation of the future of the country (in a cultural sense, but also in a literal manner), that initiatives be put in place to remedy the lack of graduate-level education in Guyana. An undergraduate degree is an excellent source of knowledge and a way of propelling one towards one’s goals. For some, it is a sufficient level of educational progress, and that is fine, but for the many others who want to develop themselves, their ideas, and their dreams, they must hope that some severe introspection by the University of Guyana is carried out and that the necessary measures are put in place. The University of Guyana must truly consider, learn, and accept the various reasons for a university’s existence beyond providing undergraduate courses of study to students.

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