For the first time in more than 15 years, UG students undertook that brief yet significant march to protest their dissatisfaction with conditions on campus.
The action will be seen as significant as is a notable shift in gears from the inaction and complacency which has characterized the UG student populace in recent years.
Though significant however, the fact that only about 150 of the university’s approximately 5,000 students turned out for the action is an indication that there is still much inactivity among the general student populace.
The march commenced on the parking lot near the George Walcott lecture Theatre (GWLT) and students proceeded off the campus grounds and along UG Road to the Railway Embankment Road. Once there the students climbed the signboard marked “University of Guyana” with the assistance of a ladder they carried and covered it with their banner. “Respect your education #UG Revolution” states the banner.
“Everybody passing will see it and they will know that not only the staff have grievances. The students have grievances also,” University of Guyana Student Society (UGSS) President Joshua Griffith told the grouping as they gathered in GWLT for a pre-march meeting
While in GWLT students were treated to a motivational speech by Astell Collins, a renowned motivational speaker. Collins said his purpose at the meeting was to show solidarity with the students and motivate them. “Guyana’s youth remains our greatest underutilized resource so my involvement…is to just empower and inspire the students to be more involved, be more active,” he told Caribbean News Desk.
Students attending yesterday’s event were asked to wear a black top for uniformity. Griffith said the colour is symbolic “of mourning the deterioration of conditions at the university.” These include poor sanitation, insufficient furniture, new laboratories and the the punctual provision of grades.
Explaining the need to become more active Griffith said that issues facing current UG students are “strikingly the same today” as they were fifty years ago. “The question we should ask ourselves is how long will we allow this to go on…are we ready to do what it takes to address this?” Griffith asked.
The main political parties were invited to the event but only A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) was represented. APNU MP and Shadow Culture Youth and Sport Minister, Christopher Jones, told the students they have the coalition’s support, but that the coalition will not get involved in their actions less they be branded political.
“The students of (UG) knows the problems. They are fully aware of them, we want to see what action the student of (UG) can do for themselves,” Jones said.
Sara Bharat, a youth advocate, heavily criticized the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) for their absences, while commending Youth Movement Guyana (YMG), an NGO, for turning up.
A representative from the Guyana National Youth Council (GNYC) also attended the event and he urged students to stop being empty cans. “We are those cans being kicked and that the more hollow we are the farther we will be kicked. When we fill ourselves with the meaning of substance, when we become really heavy cans with substance, with cement, when you kick it you get a sore toe.” “We need to recognize that we are being kicked down the road,” he said.
He also told the students that demands for a better university should not be met with cries from government that it cannot be afforded. “Many of us in the last few years have witnessed four billion dollars in tax payers’ money being potted into Marriott hotel. A Marriott hotel that none of you will ever have any lectures in…it is not a case where there is no money, this country has the money. We have a lot of money to make a sugar factory that can’t make sugar,” he lamented.
“Let’s end this oppression tomorrow, and it starts right now,” the GNYC representative said.
The staff of the university, as they continue their industrial action for better wages among other things, has planned a protest for Friday afternoon and they have extended an invitation for the students to join them.
With an increase in tuition fees from the 2014-2015 academic year, students and lecturers still complain about poor teaching-learning facilities. The academic and non-academic staff are demanding a 60-percent hike in salaries.