University of Guyana (UG) Vice Chancellor, Professor Jacob Opadeyi on Thursday confirmed that if the institution does not get money from the Student Loan Fund, a number of programmes might have to be stopped and lecturers sent home.
Opadeyi confirmed that no new contracts would be issued to academic staff because of uncertainty surrounding parliamentary approval of money for the fund by the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
The Alliance For Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) have promised to vote in favour of the GUY$450 million if government brings it to the House a separate item rather than with other programmes and projects that the opposition has rejected.
In the wake of threats by the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) to shut down the institution if programmes are cut and workers are sent home, the Vice Chancellor reiterated that the entity could not spend unavailable funds and so “may have” to lay off a number of its staff members. “If there is going to be a strike, the strike is not going to be for UG. To me the strike is for the stakeholders to fix up their business to make sure our students do not suffer. This is not an anti-student or anti-staff policy,” he added.
He explained that if an estimated 3,000 students could not access the Loan Facility they would not be accepted as students, making it useless for the lecturers to remain on the payroll. “If we have a reduction in the number of students, we would not offer some programmes and if you don’t offer some programmes, lecturers teaching the programmes would not be rehired,” Opadeyi told Demerara Waves Online News.
He said if the money for the Student Loan Facility was not provided by August, a redundancy of a number of lecturers was likely. “When you have a shortfall in your income, what do you do?… continue to pile up debt and right now our debt piling is on every month. We are piling up debt, debt, debt.”
Faced with an estimated GUY$400 million debt, the University administration plans to reduce the number of programmes if the National Assembly does not approve money for the Student Loan Facility. “My position is that if somebody wants a citizen to go to tertiary education, somebody has to come up and say university here’s how to fund it.” UG owes Guyana Power and Light at least GUY$36 million.
Chairman of the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA), Dr. Patsy Francis earlier Friday vowed to take strike action and seek the support of other unions if workers at the Turkeyen and Berbice campuses and the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education are laid off. “We told him under no circumstance will we countenance the cutting of jobs so first-off of there is any fall-out from this impasse and if there are any departments which will find themselves in jeopardy, the union will call for a closure of the university because we cannot have several things happening,” she said. Francis said under-subscribed programmes like History and Art at Turkeyen and Berbice campuses should not be cut.
He confirmed that new contracts would not be issued to lecturers because he was unsure whether and when UG would receive monies from the Student Loan Facility. UGSSA Vice Chairman, Melissa Ifill warned that such a move would not only impact on under-subscribed programmes. “That, off course, puts in jeopardy all of the programmes of the University of Guyana because if new contracts aren’t issued, those contracts wouldn’t only be issued to individuals who are in these lowly subscribed programmes. These contracts will be issued to individuals who have come to the end of their three-year contracts and they are now eligble for new contracts… and so it’s not just the lowly subscribed programmes that would be impacted but virtually all programmes at the University of Guyana woud be impacted if he does not issue new contracts to individuals who are already on staff and for instance vacancies are filled to ensure that programmes and course are run to esnure that students complete their degrees,” she said.
The Vice Chancellor sought to defend the hiring of at least two persons at salaries higher than those normally being paid. “You have to bring the best qualified persons to transform the university otherwise everybody will just remain at the same level and our culture of work just will just remain the same,” he said.
He acknowledged that UG’s staff is generally underpaid, but the hiring of the two Guyanese at comparatively higher salaries was aimed at boosting the quality of the education service being offered. “The ability to pay has to do with the serious intention for you to improve your work so that you can go and market your product outside. Right now, we don’t have a programme to go and market outside the country,” he said.
The UG Administration plans to increase tuition fees from GUY$127,000 to GUY$210,000 to bring it in line with the equivalent of US$1,000 to which it has been pegged since 1994.