from dr Terence Blackman and Dr. Caroline Walcott
News America, NEW YORK, NY, Tue. 09/20/2022: Education and innovations that meet the needs of industry are vital to the development of a nation. Therefore, heads of state need to consciously privilege human capital investments because of their link to sustainable economic growth. These views reflect the collective consensus of academics and development advocates for global success stories like Singapore, where citizens remain focused on research and development initiatives. Additionally, education’s transformative role in human capacity building and its potential to accelerate national development in Guyana also resonates with key education administrators in an oil-rich Guyana.
As we reflect on Guyana’s future in this issue, we focus on the University of Guyana (UG), its ambitions on the eve of its 60th anniversary, and a GOAL-centric approach now available to the Guyanese workforce. We do this by acknowledging the various arguments underlying higher education today and Guyana’s position to adequately prepare its citizens to become globally competitive and locally relevant. To achieve the competitiveness and relevance we speak of, we must act with determination at this precise moment as sustainable oil revenues begin to accumulate in Guyana’s Treasury. The budget of GYD 552.6 billion was the largest in Guyana’s history. It was 44 percent larger than the 2021 budget and included for the first time GYD126.7 billion from the Natural Resource Fund (NRF), which totaled GYD127 billion at the end of 2021, Guyana’s share of oil production and royalties. According to the Central Bank of Guyana report for the first quarter of 2022 for the Natural Resource Fund (NRF), the market value of the fund was US$31.38 billion/US$112.17 million quarter-on-quarter.
In its 59-year history as Guyana’s highest educational institution, the University of Guyana has awarded nearly 60,000 students, mostly from Guyana and the Caribbean region, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and degrees in a range of disciplines. In addition to overseeing the arts, education, science and technology disciplines, the UG has gradually expanded its range of programs to include geological studies and business start-ups since its founding in 1963. Alumni include the nation’s former and current presidents, world-class academics and leaders in the diaspora.
During the third episode of Transforming Guyana, the GBJ had the honor of sitting with the 10th Chancellor of UG, Professor Edward Greene, and the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paloma Mohamed-Martin. Together they shared the ongoing challenges of UG and offered outstanding perspectives and a conceptual model for its further development.
It is notable that Professor Mohamed-Martin took office as the 11th Vice Chancellor in 2020 at a critical time in Guyana’s transition as an oil producer. UG’s pedagogical response to the challenges caused by the global pandemic emerged almost simultaneously, forcing the institution to become innovative and adaptable while continuing to provide quality education. While not directly attributable to the global pandemic, UG’s increased collaboration with external partners has also increased. According to Vice-Chancellor Mohamed-Martin, the university’s teaching staff, its laboratories and programs must be resourced to build human capacity in the oil and gas industry, agriculture and other critical service sectors. What types of skills and education and training are required for these industries? Guyana needs civil engineers, computer scientists and craftsmen such as welders, accountants and lawyers. It should be noted that many of the jobs for oil and gas will be outside of the STEM field as the sector’s managerial and subcontracting requirements are very high.
In articulating what it means for the country’s premier tertiary institution to provide world-class education, the university leader noted that “student success is civic success” and should be based on a flexible, actionable, authentic learning structure that incorporates global perspectives. Additionally, she said that UG’s stability throughout its history is best positioned to meet the nation’s capacity-building needs. However, Professor Mohamed-Martin also acknowledged the shortcomings that have undermined institutional strengthening over the years. These include the physical overhaul of classrooms to accommodate the growing student population and the evolving focus on STEM, which requires significant funding.
Despite its role in educating students and its overall contribution to Guyana’s public and private sectors over the years, UG’s history of being underfunded appears to be consistent under successive administrations. Its funding model reflects a mix of tuition fees, established in 1994, and government funding, as well as external projects and collaborations between faculties and UG partners. Research and innovation, two important pillars of national development, lack the critical support needed to establish and sustain business creation to fuel national growth, even as UG continues to advance in these areas. For example, the university holds its 2ndnd Graduate symposium from October 5th to 7th, 2022 under the motto Innovative Research on Sustainable Development in a Resource Abundant Economy. Over twenty graduate students will present papers on the subtopics of Food Production and Food Security, Public Health and Equitable Human Development, Environmental Management, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Migration, Violence, Suicide, Poverty and Resilience, and Education for Sustainable Development in the 21st Century. As the institution strives to align its programs with international standards, one must acknowledge the current government’s efforts to resource UG over the years. Also commendable are the university leadership’s strategic partnerships with local, regional, and international institutions as building blocks for human capability building and transformation. In fact, UG was taught to fish and is boldly embracing its future. We also note here that the government has announced its plans to use the oil proceeds to make higher education free. This is an exciting development and we want this contingency to be planned for as fully and rigorously as possible.
The Chancellor of UG, Dr. Edward Greene, who once headed the Directorate for Human and Social Development at the CARICOM Secretariat, believes that human capital development should be the bedrock of national development initiatives. His reference to the experiences in Singapore and Peru also influenced the discourse on investing in the educational and social sectors of these countries, which have become economic success stories. Underlining the corollary between resource-rich nations and their slow economic growth, the Caribbean regional expert concluded that a nation’s actual development should be measured against critical indicators, including the health of its citizens, their standard of living and access to education. This framework invites further consideration of national efforts to educate the nation.
Guyana Online Academy of Learning (GOAL), a newcomer in education delivery in Guyana, was launched in 2021 by the Government of Guyana to provide up to 20,000 online scholarships by 2025. As of August 2022, the Academy had already disbursed 7,500 scholarships based on its articulated vision and mission to provide quality higher education and opportunities to citizens from diverse academic programs including aviation management, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and engineering.
GOAL’s international, regional and local partners include the International University of Applied Science, the University of the West Indies Open Campus and the Department of Education. Given its second chance ethos, GOAL represents a unique opportunity for workers in Guyana and this initiative should complement rather than compete with UG. In comparison, UG’s 150 programs in over 60 disciplines in online, face-to-face or mixed formats and features across eight campuses give it a distinct competitive advantage. Importantly, GOAL’s Get Ready Opportunity to Work (GROW) initiative considers 3,132 Guyanese awardees who do not have the academic credentials to enroll in the University of Guyana. GOAL’s flexible online arrangement reflects the changing face of higher education, especially in a post-pandemic environment.
GOAL and UG have similar socio-economic and political goals. We believe that by working together, they can better prepare Guyanese at home and abroad for the opportunities Guyana will face in the 21st century. A UG-GOAL collaboration for Guyana has the potential to transform the local workforce while preparing citizens to become globally relevant.
EDITOR’S NOTE: dr Carolyn Walcott is a media and communications educator and scholar with a diverse background in journalism education, international communications and media development. Her research agenda includes media education, political rhetoric and social change. She is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Clayton State University and teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses for the University of Guyana. Previously, she was Director at the UG Center for Communication Studies (UGCCS), where she coordinated international capacity-building seminars to improve journalistic practice in Guyana. Her professional media and development consultancy includes strategic mapping and intervention design for agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF and WWF. She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Guyana and her degrees at Ohio University (MA-Communication & Development) and Georgia State University (Ph.D.).
dr Terrence Richard Blackman is a member of the Guyanese diaspora. He is an Associate Professor of Mathematics and a founding member of the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics Medgar Evers College. He is an alumni dr Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT and a Member of the School of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study. He was previously Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Dean of the School of Science Health and Technology at Medgar Evers College, where he has been for more than 25 years. He graduated in Queen’s College, Guyana, Brooklyn College, CUNYand the Graduate School of the City University of New York.