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Guyana’s 20,000 scholarship negotiations with UWI fiercely criticised

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 November 2020, 20:25 by Denis Chabrol

The University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) is among those heaping criticism on the decision by the government to award 20,000 scholarships over the next four years through the University of the West Indies (UWI).

News of this decision came yesterday in a UWI news release, but so far the Guyana government has not denied that such a plan is in the works. Minister of Education, Priya  Manickchand could not be reached for clarifications about the project, despite several efforts.

UGWU President, Bruce Haynes says as far as he is aware, UG has not been consulted by the Irfaan Ali-led administration before it decided to reach out to the UWI.

Mr. Haynes says from all appearances the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) is pushing ahead with the UWI scholarship plan to satisfy an election campaign promise. “It has time implications for them because remember this is about manifesto. This is not about anybody feelings not being hurt. It’s about the manifesto and it’s a political decision,” he told News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online News.

The UGWU President says if the government gives UG the same amount of money that it will pay UWI for the scholarships, UG can teach those academic programmes and provide those scholarship. “They could, indeed, give us the money to put Online education on the map,” Mr. Haynes added.

UWI said it was invited by President Irfaan Ali to help drive Guyana’s human resource strategy, and soon a meeting involving government representatives would be held. The strategy was discussed by the Guyanese leader and UWI Vice-Chancellor Professor Hillary Beckles on Thursday, November 5 in a virtual meeting. Dr. Ali has called upon The UWI to be “very aggressive” in producing the business plan that will allow it to deliver. He has identified all areas of human resource development that Guyana is urgently in need of. In response, Vice-Chancellor Beckles has assured the President that The UWI sees Guyana as part of its environment.

Professor Beckles is reportedly confident that the Council of the UWI will endorse this worthwhile and much-needed project. He has already spoken with The UWI’s Chancellor, Mr. Robert Bermudez, who agrees that it must and should be undertaken.

Opposition Shadow Public Service Minister, Tabita Sarabo-Halley is questioning the reasoning behind the Guyana government’s plan to award scholarships for Guyanese to study at the University of the West Indies’ Open Campus. Mrs. Sarabo-Halley says the Open Campus website shows that the programmes of study being offered are significantly limited to the skill sets that Guyana needs.

Based on available information, she believes that Guyana will have to pay UWI to set up the systems to train Guyanese through the scholarship programme. “I have no personal problem with the University of the West Indies but one glance at the Open Campus website
shows that the programmes offered are significantly limited compared to the skillsets, already established to be required. Thus, since it would cost UWI to create an array of new programmes and find new lecturers to meet our needs, we can be sure that our tax dollars would ultimately be paying for that,” she said in a statement.

The former Public Service Minister under the David Granger-led administration suggests that it will be smarter for Guyana to spend its tax dollars on the University of Guyana and  vocational institutions. She says the planned deal between the Guyana government and UWI raises more questions than answers. The opposition APNU+AFC lawmaker is calling on Guyanese who are interested in the development of UG and vocational institutions to pay attention to what she calls “this strange new deal.”

United States-based Mass Communications Professor, Vibert Cambridge is also weighing in on the issue, saying that Guyana appears set to be a cash cow for UWI . “At current market rates for credible online tertiary-level education, UWI is poised to earn a very tidy-sum of Guyana’s national treasure,” he said in clear reference to projected huge oil revenues.

UWI sources have told News-Talk Radio Guyana that an Online programme of study with that Caribbean university could cost at least US$8,000 compared to US$1,000 that UG would charge.

Professor Cambridge, who has worked closely with UG in the past, strongly suggested that former UG Vice Chancellor Jacob Opadeyi, who is a senior UWI academic, is behind the moves for UWI Open Campus scholarships to be made to available to Guyanese through the government. “A lingering question is whether, this engagement with UWI is associated with Professor Jacob Opadeyi,” said Professor Cambridge. He noted that Professor Opadeyi, who was recently appointed Special Projects Officer at the Ministry of Education, was associated in some way with President Irfaan Ali’s doctoral studies at UWI.

Professor Cambridge also criticised UWI for appearing to indicate that the deal with the Guyana government was on the verge of being finalised.  “Surely, a more appropriate and respectful trajectory should be establishing and institutionalizing an era of reciprocity. A win-win strategy. Not a zero-sum game. One that will benefit the regional tertiary education system with innovative teaching and learning, robust research, and transforming service,” he said.

The UWI has said it was currently negotiating an agreement with the government of Guyana to help to train up to 20,000 nationals over the next five years, through The UWI Open Campus. “This represents an opportunity not only to help build a fellow CARICOM nation’s capital infrastructure for economic, social and cultural development, but also to bring the University’s internationally recognised brand of excellence into the country,”  UWI has said in a statement.