Posted February 21st. 2003
Madam Chairperson, Chairman of the Fortieth Anniversary Celebrations Committee Members of the Council, Vice Chancellor, Dr. James Rose and Staff of the University of Guyana, President of the UGSS, Students, Faculty Staff, Special Invitees, Ladies and Gentlemen
I bring you the greetings of the Government and the best wishes of the people of Guyana as you prepare to celebrate your fortieth anniversary. I am pleased to be associated with the university and its community as today you embark upon nine months of celebratory, reflective, and future-envisioning activities.
It is my hope that at the conclusion of your activities the University of Guyana will recognize that its strengths and resources exceed those located at Turkeyen and Tain. You will be convinced that a fund of goodwill exists among alumni population in the Diaspora. This fund of goodwill is expansive and exists in the form of both material and intellectual capital. I am sure that ways will be found for making maximum use of this hitherto unexploited resource.
At the conclusion I would also expect that the current student body would have developed a greater sense of pride in the university as they learn of the rich heritage bequeathed to them. Indeed, they must become defenders of its academic integrity through their scholarship; and guardians and protectors of its reputation through their conduct.
Remembering the journey this enduring institution has traveled over its forty years is a necessary ritual in the development of great institutions. Calling attention to the Fortieth Anniversary of the founding of the University of Guyana is therefore an essential and timely activity: It allows us to revisit the vision of Dr. Cheddi Jagan in 1963 for a national university that is accessible to the Guyanese people irrespective of wealth or class.
That vision has not faltered: Today we are justly proud of this institution. In its early stages, it encountered storms; weathered rough waves and had known the turmoil of the seas but it has risen above all its trials to becoming a premier learning institution: It has grown from occupying make- shift classrooms at Queen's College to occupying spacious grounds at Turkeyen and Tain. We also recall with gratitude the diligence and devotion of some of the men and women who have laboured here in spite of setbacks and challenges.
The University of Guyana is a Guyanese beacon that casts its light to the far-flung reaches of the earth. Many of its graduates, men and women, who once graced this comparatively humble campus, today occupy some of the highest positions in governments, industry, and academia around the world. They are advisors and teachers, thinkers and inventors:
For your fortieth anniversary, you have selected "A Time to Reconnect" as the theme: It is a most appropriate one with a rich imagery that gives us visions of people, continents apart, successful and capable of contributing to the maturity of this university, connecting through networks but not compared to IT. I see in your theme the use of information technology (IT) to stimulate discussions, garner opinions, disperse ideas, augment the skills possessed by the institution, and transcend space and time through distance education and truly become a university without walls.
As you approach forty you will observe that the challenges faced by institutions of learning are more complex and unyielding than the earlier problems surmounted. First and foremost, national institutions of higher learning must achieve and maintain, where applicable, and maintain, as appropriate, approved methods and standards of teaching; rigor in testing; fervency in inquiry; and efficiency in general functioning comparable to similar institutions of learning in the Region and our hemisphere.
In conformity with its mission of producing knowledge workers in various disciplines, it must continually refine testable ways of ensuring that all those who bear its diplomas have met its requirements. No graduate wishing to be taken seriously, must have left this institution without exposure to philosophical thought, knowledge of our history, appreciation for our ethnic diversity, familiarity with the Caribbean, knowledge of the world of today, and competencies that make them prepared for life in the technological age.
This basic requirement being met must be the first proof and the distinguishing mark of an educated person. One who is able to converse intelligently, reason appropriately, and apply knowledge to problems in the unending human search for answers and quest for solutions to perplexing issues.
Mr. Chairman, universities are no longer ivory towers: Progressive learning institutions are engaged with their immediate communities as they deal with the problems of the day. In times past the aloofness of institutions of learning from the rest of the population was the mark of distinction. Today, their relevance is their capability to grapple with the confounding issues of the day whether located in the local, regional or global environment.
Universities are becoming known and reputed for particular studies: I believe they have exploited their natural advantages, whether location or resource, institutional strengths, history and guiding philosophies to select that niche. They seek renown in particular disciplines while maintaining excellence in all areas: It is my view that there should be no tension in finding the balance between the maintenance of academic excellence and simultaneously ensuring societal relevance.
As you embark upon your celebrations, I am sure you have noted that universities are adopting many of the practices of industry without harm to the academic enterprise. I believe that UG is on the correct path when it enters fruitful and productive partnerships with the private sector, as it has begun to do.
I have heard, and am therefore encouraged, that the university administration with the full support of the academic staff intends to address those student complaints that are founded and thereby build greater confidence in the impartiality of the university's methods and systems: The restoration of the role of the external examiner; ensuring that lecturers honour their obligations in a timely and efficient manner; the right of students to a fair appeal; and the establishment of patently impartial review and complaints boards are among the urgent confidence building issues. These measures will have a motivational effect and serve as a reminder that everyone is accountable.
Mr. Chairman, for a developing country like ours to sustain a quality university it demands economic commitment. It requires the leadership of Government, the cooperation of the private sector and the support of those who choose to pursue a university education. The ability of the Treasury to maintain recurrent expenditures and finance new developments is directly related to the performance of the economy. There are always deep competing needs in our society and the choice is not between wants and needs but always about which of the pressing needs must be met firstly.
Not withstanding my Government is unreservedly committed to playing its part in building and maintaining a reputable learning institution. No government could do otherwise if our country is to survive and prosper within the global technological future that is already upon us. It is my wish that the events and activities planned for the coming months will be successfully conducted: I now have great pleasure in launching the 40th anniversary activities of the University of Guyana. May these serve as a stimulus for institutional excellence, closer bonding with the community and a brighter image in society and academia.