November 23 ,2020
Government’s discussion with The University of the West Indies (UWI) to train at least 20,000 persons here is by no means bypassing UG but is aimed at providing online tertiary education for the many who lobbied for it, Minister of Education Priya Manickchand yesterday said.
“The University of Guyana (UG) was established by the founder of the People’s Progressive Party; that is Cheddi Jagan, it has been supported by the PPP through the years; PPP in office and out of office. The PPP has absolutely no desire to replace UG,” Manickchand told Stabroek News yesterday when contacted.
“In fact, it is the opposite, UG is going to be improved, it is going to be developed and added to. This is an addition to what exists right now and not an attempt to replace anything. Like I said, we are in touch with several different universities which can provide the training we are looking for and we can offer that to different groups,” she added.
She said that a statement from her ministry will be issued to clarify any mix- up on the matter and stressed that her government started the process out of the call from citizens countrywide who pleaded for online study options, as it offers a wide range of flexibility for them.
On Wednesday, UWI issued a statement saying that it is currently negotiating an agreement with the Government of Guyana to help to train up to 20,000 Guyanese over the next five years, through The UWI Open Campus.
The UWI statement informed that the university was invited by President Irfaan Ali, to help drive forward Guyana’s human resource development strategy. It said that on November 5th, UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, held a virtual meeting with President Ali, in which they discussed a strategy for the country’s future described as “exciting, sustainable, and on the cutting edge of Caribbean governance.”
“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 recognized brand of excellence into the country”, UWI said.
No formal statement has been issued by the Guyana Government on this initiative.
Following the UWI statement, the University of Guyana on Friday issued one of its own saying that it had not renounced or transferred its responsibilities and since it was an external statement on the matter it would not take it as a national policy statement but as one of “grand intention”.
UG’s release said that as the national brain trust, “supplying over 70% of graduates to Guyana and 30% exports”, it wished to assure that it is in preliminary talks on online education and scholarships.
“The national University has not ceded its mandate and responsibilities and UG is now offering more than 1000 courses online as part of `The University of Guyana Blueprint 2040’ strategy framework”, the release said.
UG added that it also routinely collaborates with over 100 regional and international institutions and recognises the scope for and benefits of a variety of higher education players in the national space. The University, therefore, continues to assist in ensuring these matters are approached “strategically, inclusively and synergistically”, the release stated.
Observers say that if the government wanted to have 20,000 persons trained then it should have had UG source these programmes and reimburse it for the costs rather than going directly to UWI and bypassing the institution of highest learning here.
Guyana’s Minister of Education assured that her government was in no way trying to replace UG with UWI or any other university but that it was seeking ways to bring additional online degree programmes to citizens here.
She explained that for many the desire is to attend university but personal circumstances do not permit them to attend school in person. She reasoned that having online university access is a way to tackle access to higher learning, which will in turn help the overall development of the country.
“Let us be clear, it is not to replace anything. It is to complement what exists and we intend to improve what exists. It is just …an addition to and it is supposed to be online. This is not ‘instead of UG’; this is ‘in addition to what UG offers’. UG does not have presently, and we expect that to change and are working to ensure that changes, courses which are fully online. Teaching online doesn’t mean you have a university online, so you have to bear that in mind,” she said.
The minister added, “During the various consultations countrywide, people said they want the opportunity and flexibility to train online, in addition to going to UG, because some people simply can’t go to full-time classes. Some people want to train and not leave their place of employment and so on. So you will see the University of Guyana attracting some attention in that manifesto. Two of the things was that the University of Guyana would be free (in terms of tuition) in five years and that there would be a pathway for those who owe presently”.
Government, according to the Minister of Education, is currently putting plans on stream to also offer online scholarships. “We are looking to offer 20k scholarships, at least, to 20k persons,” she said.
It is from that vision that discussions are being pursued, not only with UWI but with countries from across the globe.
“We said that we would complement the various pathways persons have to getting trained and educated at different places. At the University of Guyana there is technical vocational training and there are some other tertiary training centres like CPCE and so on. So we were very clear, that based upon what the population said to us, from across the nation, and prior to us crafting the manifesto, that we would put out opportunity for 20,000 Guyanese to become further trained, particularly online. That is what people had said they wanted. That is to complement whatever exists, and what exists will be boosted and buttressed by more resources and improved facilities,” she asserted.
“In pursuit of attempting to deliver that promise, we have been as a government in conversation with several different universities, all across the world, on how we can get this materialized. We have been talking to Indira Gandhi University, we are talking to UK, China, Nigeria, the UWI …and the University of Guyana about having online educational opportunities, that we would then offer to the people of this country. We are looking at different types of programmes, degrees, masters, PhDs …,” she added.