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Increased UG tuition fees linked to financial audit

The University of Guyana Bursary.

The University of Guyana’s (UG) just completed special audit that has uncovered several weaknesses in accountability will strengthen the institution’s case to ask government to increase tuition fees, according to a top official.

Vice Chancellor, Professor Jacob Opadeyi, however, said the decision to hike most tuition fees from GUY$127,000 per academic year to GUY$345,000 rests with the government. “Increasing fees or not is a political decision, is not an economic decision. It’s a question of do we want a high class university,” he told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com).

On the issue of affordability, he said 60 percent of the student population do not take student loans.

One formula being examined is for tuition fees to be used to pay salaries and government’s subvention to be spent on infrastructure and security.At a news conference, he stressed that the intention is not for students to pay the full GUY$345,000 but for the fee to be shared between government and students.

Opadeyi reiterated that plans were in the pipeline to address the issue of low salaries, something UG’s workers’ unions want to be tied to what is being offered at other Caribbean universities.

Currently, UG is saddled with a GUY$482 million debt in pensions, income tax, social security, security services and electricity and water. Another GUY$50 million are owed to part-time lecturers. Opadeyi hopes that government can pay or write off those debts and help give the university a new lease of life. ‘The arrangement is that once the university presents its plan on how to move forward, the government will come into our rescue that if they are giving us any money to take care of our liabilities the management, led by the Vice Chancellor, must provide plans of what are the indicators that we are going to put in place to make sure what happen before will not reoccur,” he said.

Opadeyi said he has told government to cease disbursing funds to UG until the financial system is reconstructed with the assistance of a consultant who would be hired “because the money would just disappear and we don’t know where it has gone.”

The Vice Chancellor outlined several findings of the special audit which was done free of cost by the University of the West Indies (UWI). They included a total lack of supervision in the accounting process including multiple accesses to the accounting system by a single password and uncollected salary cheques of more than GUY$19 million. “What we have done here is to say that there are irregularities that are open to fraud…” he said. At the same time, Opadeyi said he could not immediately afford to conduct a forensic audit because it could take about three years to find out who stole the institution’s funds.

Other observations by the auditors included delay in bank and other reconciliations for several months, omission of payments from general ledgers, poor accounting of tuition fees, unreliable cash balances, multiple roles by one person authorising, recording and reconciling transactions, lack of documentation and the absence of tendering for certain amounts, splitting of contracts to avoid higher levels of approvals, erratic account balances, varied rather than standardised contracts and payments made without acquiring receipts.

In the area of donor financing, the Vice Chancellor expressed concern about how those funds were being managed and accounted for by the tertiary institution. “The administration of donor funding is something that is worrisome to me because that’s an opportunity for the university to get grant money to expand its facilities but if we cannot provide proper accounting to the donors we might be blacklisted and this is something that I want to avoid,” he said.

The contracts of Bursar John Seeram and Chief Accountant Hazel Bentick have since been terminated.

The Bursary’s organisational structure would be reviewed and qualified and competent staff hired in keeping with assigned duties.

UG plans to embark on a management audit to ascertain whether admission and human resource regulations are being breached. Referring to the dismissal of a lecturer because of alleged sexual harassment, the Vice Chancellor said the institution’s sexual harassment policy would be reviewed.