“Be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.” The Vice-Chancellor’s words were indelibly etched in my mind as I left the “student consultations.” 20 years have passed since the University of Guyana implemented its tuition fee. Up until two days prior to writing this blog, that fee had never changed from its value of GUY $127,000. Come August, new students will pay an annual fee of GUY $210,000, a 65% increase. The “hike” (to call it what it is, as against the overly-moderate “realignment”) was long anticipated and should come as a surprise to no one. However, as much as the increase was expected, it was most certainly not inevitable.
There are two troubling facets that one must recognize when seeking to understand why the hike was never a fait accompli. The first is state negligence and the second student apathy. Since coming into power, the current administration has controlled the University’s highest decision making forum, the University Council, as empowered by the University Of Guyana Act*. They would have been privy to financial reports and budgets of the University on a yearly basis at minimum, and would have been well aware of the predicament the University was in, long before the public even knew there was a problem. The current Vice-Chancellor is certainly not the first administrator to recognize the University’s troubles and call for an increase in income, whether through tuition, subvention or otherwise. It would have been the Council’s mandate, to find solutions to a situation that was cascading out of control. For many years the option of tuition increase was rejected in its entirety by the Government-controlled Council. One would have made the assumption that this rejection implied that the State was going to fill the gap created between the University’s income and expenditure, by providing a sufficient subvention. That however, was a wrongful assumption and today we the students must bear the brunt of this ineptitude.
Speculations are rife as to why the State allowed such a situation to develop. I prefer at this juncture, to leave such conjectures for the political analysts. Not because I think it is unimportant, but because there is a greater notion which deserves attention. Troubling is the thought as it runs through my mind; the reality that even if the University were to charge us the true economic cost of our respective programmes (which exceeds $300,000), we would grudgingly accept it. As Freddie Kissoon puts it, we are “a nation of sheep.”
Vivid images still linger in my mind as I think back two years ago when the student union joined forces with the workers’ unions to stage what was supposed to be a campus uprising. “Operation Rescue UG” managed to close the campus for about three consecutive weeks, quite an effort considering that the most abundant stakeholders were noticeably absent. Back then (a mere two years ago), our primary call was for better funding of the university. However, the lines were clearly drawn and received support from the unions; there was to be no increase in tuition. Any increase in finances would have to come from the State. Duane Edwards (the then UGSS president), Adel Lily, Amir Dillawar and I were the main proponents from the student body who catapulted that position. Unfortunately, as much as our call seemed noble and reasonable, we did not get the support of our colleagues that was needed to make such a demand.
And here I am two years later, witnessing the destruction of the principle I once stood for. The state has not only allowed the University to put itself in a most desperate position, it has shifted the burden of rescuing the institution squarely onto the shoulders of the students. Of course, I don’t expect as much as a whimper from the student population. My final year at the university is a most welcomed one.
(The photo included in this blog was taken by Stabroek News in 2012 as Operation Rescue UG held a picketing exercise outside Parliament Building. Duane Edwards and I were the only two students present that day)
*You can view the University Ordinance here: http://www.uog.edu.gy/files/documents/The%20University%20of%20Guyana%20Act.pdf