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UG Vice Chancellor appeals for normalcy again

FLASH BACK: UG Vice Chancellor, Professor Jacob Opadeyi flanked by a student and a lecturer.

As a now almost one-month old strike by University of Guyana (UG) workers continues to impact harshly on classes, Vice Chancellor Professor Jacob Opadeyi on Monday appealed for an end to the industrial action and a resumption of negotiations.

For the sake of our students, I humbly request a return to normalcy, negotiation in good faith, and respect for each other. Respect for our paying students, respect for our hard working students, respect for the staff, respect for the Council who has supported this administration, and respect for the governments’ financial regime. Let’s work together to build a better University,” he said in a lengthty statement reproduced below.

In the statement issued the same day that academic and non-academic staff marched from the Turkeyen Campus to Georgetown, he also acknowledged the need for more money to be pumped into the 50-year old institution and for lecturers to deliver quality education.

Up to when Oapdeyi called off negotiations because the strike was still continuing, the workers have maintained a 60 percent demand in a increase in wages and salaries. 

Despite calls by the administration, President Donald Ramotar and the Ministry of Labour for the workers to return to the bargaining table, the Workers Union (UGWU) and the Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) have said they have no faith in the promises because of the UG administration’s track record. Instead, they want a reasonable offer or an interim pay-hike before they return to work and resume negotiations within a specified time-frame.

Following is the Vice Chancellor’s statement below;

On assumption of office as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana (UG), it took less than two weeks before I realized the enormous task of transforming the University back to its days of glory. The days that UG produced global and regional scholars, business leaders, entrepreneurs, engineers and teachers have contributed not only to the development of Guyana but to the world around. The need for transformation is dictated by the inadequate state of its infrastructure: drainage, sewerage, buildings, laboratories, furniture and other facilities. This need is also dictated by the university’s over 30 year old system of governance, policies, examination and admission regulations, added to the fact that its staff and student welfare services lack modern day requirements. The level of funding and the management of the available funds leave much to be desired.

We should commend the staff and students who endure this less than desirable state of affairs: the low level of staff remunerations and the unacceptable state of office facilities and teaching materials.

It is a pity that the current industrial impasse is being used to point fingers. No one entity should be blamed for the current state of UG, but the national community as a whole who have sat back and allowed this noble university to suffer from decades of neglect, abandonment, and political grandstanding.

The problem at UG is not merely a problem of decades of underfunding and poor management but chiefly the lack of a national policy on how to fund the University. In the absence of this policy, the funding regimes are haphazard and arbitrary. In the absence of such a national policy, accountability, transparency, and due diligence can hardlybe demanded. Strategic plans, development goals, monitoring and evaluation and score cards will be foreign words to Council and Administration. I ask, when last was the management of UG called before the parliament to account for its revenue and expenditure? Who dares to ask UG to do such a thing when its income cannot meet its expenditure, when its budgets are unrealistic, when there is no financial discipline?

It is my hope that the national community will support the call for the development of a national policy on how to fund the university with the required accountability rules and regulations. This is the root cause of UG’s problem.

The University today is in a catch 22 position: low level of tuition fees, low level of subvention grants, low level of private sector investment and coupled with inadequate facilities and inadequate service delivery. According to a Chinese adage:“cheap things no good, good things no cheap”.

The need to inject large sums of money into UG is without question: money to upgrade its infrastructure and build new and modern facilities and money to improve salaries and benefits. This new money should come with demand for improvement in quality of service and quality of products. This new money will encourage the recruitment and retention of more qualified and student-centered staff both within Guyana and further afield.

The Council and Administration, understanding of these challenges,have led us to initiate a number of actions that are bearing the desired result:

·         Special audits that identified the sources of financial mismanagement

·         Appointment of a new Bursar, Chief Accountant, and Accountants that are working to significantly improve our financial system

·         Decision to purchase a new accounting and human resources management software to replace the over 20 year old software currently being used

·         Increase of retirement age of our lecturers from 60 to 65 years to retain our very best who are still eager and young enough  to be of service to our students

·         Upgrading the terms of employment of our maid cleaners

·         Financial and system audits of our units that are running at a loss

·         Audit of teaching loads in order to ensure that contractual obligations are met

·         Government investment of US$10 million to upgrade facilities of the Science and Technology Faculties

·         Institutionalization of research grants to improve research outputs

·         Institutionalization of facilities fee to supportthe upgrading of our teaching and learning resources

·         Minimal adjustment of tuition fee to decrease the level of deficit

·         Introduction of online degree programs to increase access to University Education

We have done all of these with the financial commitment of the Government.

These are baby steps. We have made some gains, but the road ahead is still far and rough. We need to urgently work on the following:

·         Attract private sector funding to enhance our plants and facilities

·         Improve the salaries of our staff in general but particularly that of our lecturers

·         Improve the buildings and facilities of our non-science faculties

·         Seek and obtain accreditation for all our professional programs

·         Introduce undergraduate and postgraduate programs that address the developmental challenges of Guyana

·         Increase enrolment in Science and Technology through scholarships.

·         Increase enrolment by attracting out-of-region and foreign students

·         Upgrade and increase on-campus accommodation for local and foreign students

·         Invest in sporting facilities not only for our staff and students but for persons living around our campuses

·         Invest in technology that will reduce our expenditure and improve our efficiency

·         Improve on our customer service regimes

·         Improve on our level of research output and minimizestudents failure rates

We cannot do any of these in the face of protracted salary and wage negotiations.We cannot afford to have staff who have low morale because of inadequate remunerations.We cannot afford to keep our students out of classes- they have paid an increased fee for that matter.

My support for improvement in salaries and benefits comes with improvement in efficiency and accountability. This support however, comes with the understanding of the issue of how this increase can be funded without reverting to the days of huge deficit.

I proffer the following direct and indirect investment:

a.       Increase in government subvention by 25% in the first instance.

b.       Reduction of part-time expenditure and ensuring that our lecturers meet their contractual teaching obligations.

c.        Scholarships for 1000 students in the areas of Science and Technology.

d.       Revision of UG electricity rate – we are neither an industrynor a commercial institution.

e.       Provision of duty-free concession to all lecturers with a minimum of Masters Degree and after 3 years of satisfactory service to the University.

f.         Provision of land and housing loans at a special low interest rate to all staff after 3 years of quality service.

g.       Recovery of student loans that are in default to fund University capital works.

h.       Transfer of the student loan scheme to private sector as a revolving loan.

i.         Cyclic offering of programs that are a drain to our resources.

j.         Direct duty and VAT exemptions for University acquisitions.

k.        Periodic maintenance of our roads, drains and grounds by the Ministry of Public Works.

If our lecturers are expected to give quality instructions, publish quality papers in international journals, provide quality services to the University and National communities provide quality input in local, regional and international debates, they deserve quality salaries and wages. The two go hand in hand. Again, “Cheap things no good and good things no cheap”. In investing in staff, we will have to hold them accountable through biannual student assessment, annual quality and productivity assessment and peer review.

For the sake of our students, I humbly request a return to normalcy, negotiation in good faith, and respect for each other. Respect for our paying students, respect for our hard working students, respect for the staff, respect for the Council who has supported this administration, and respect for the governments’ financial regime. Let’s work together to build a better University.