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DEAR EDITOR,

In the July, 28th, 2005 press release, Mr A. Creighton, DVC, on behalf of the UG Administration was reported by the Guyana Chronicle to be saying that in acknowledging the shortfalls as it relates to the quality of lecturers, there is a misconception that UG has unqualified lecturers.

He said that because of salaries offered to lecturers, UG could not compete with other universities and agencies that offer better payments. There is a need for more senior academics and lecturers with doctorates, but he noted that there is a core of qualified and competent staff.

Unfortunately, these are the same misconceptions that have been stated before by this same UG's Admin. We have shown these to be false before, and this situation has not changed!

Where is the core of well-qualified staff in Science e.g. Biochemistry, Biotechnology, and Microbiology? Where are these fundamental programmes? (There are no qualified staff and/or labs for these essential programmes – also essential in Agriculture, Forestry, and Health Sciences (including medicine).) This was painfully obvious in the aftermath of the last 2005 floods.

The President of Guyana, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo was seeing first hand the effects of his government's continued misplaced trust and support of the Administration of UG – no UG microbiologists could even advise on the safety of campus (with regards to the presence and spread of bacterial /viral infestations) during the crisis. Where was the bio-safety and bio-hazardous materials UG official?

The UG Admin had previously misled the President and people of Guyana that their programmes are functional, and are now doing it again. Whether one agrees with the President or not, UG officials should not deliberately mislead the Head of State. It seems really strange that UG officials can do this publicly and get away with it. This is (in my view) total disrespect for the democratically elected Head of State. The University officials (or any other public officials) should be honest with the legitimate government, opposition, and the people.

UG microbiologists even cannot grow nor do any test for bacteria on UG's campus. There are simply no laboratory facilities for basic microbiology laboratory training on UG's campus.

This glaring deficiency is permitted despite the cross department's relevance and essential components to other core programmes – Biochemistry, Biology, Agriculture, Forestry, Fishery, and Health Sciences (medicine). How can anyone expect industry to provide fundamental training in basic microbiology?

That is not the job of industry with its own respective specialised application of a particular field. It seems rather strange that the Prime Minister and Ministers responsible for Health, Forestry, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Science would not be appalled. These personnel have or are expected to have an interest in science and technology, since these are important aspects of any developmental initiatives.

Why does the UG Admin continue to mislead the public again and again without penalty? Maybe because they know that this is what their political masters (PNC and PPP) desire for their own political purposes; in addition, the UG's Admin have been rewarded (renewed contracts) for their numerous misleading, bungling, and questionable actions/inactions! It is no secret that the public has little or no respect for this institution, where the leadership lacks any semblance of respectability and credibility?

During my tenure (2001-2002) at UG, I found that even UG faculty/staff was saying that the Cyril Potter's College of Education was better managed. The politicians (PPP and PNC) and others (business) know about the failing/falling educational standards that exist at UG and do not believe the UG Admin.'s claims; they send their children overseas, for example to the USA or Canada, but certainly not Cuba.

As mentioned before by me, any University (or College, or Institute, or High School) that has confidence in itself would post its staff and their credentials on its website. This is a standard practice. The University of Guyana cannot list its staff because turnover is so rapid, that before they can list their faculty, the personnel have long gone. (UG has only just removed the picture of a flooded campus from its website, that we had used to point out it should have flood preparation plans.)

I was told that some just hired faculty, on arriving took one look at the campus, turned around and headed for the airport. They decided to cut the losses after being so shocked and disillusioned. Word gets around personnel would not come here. Even when they come they are treated so horribly (e.g. the VSOs - their mistreatment was simply against the traditional hospitality of the nation) that they leave with bad experiences.

Imaginative leadership and vision are lacking by this current UG's Admin. They publicly complain that they cannot find qualified and senior academics, yet they allow scarce qualified personnel to retire at age 55! In a situation where there is a chronic shortage and desperate need of qualified personnel, how could you let such a well-qualified person go?

The retirement at age 55 is probably a relic of Guyana 's colonial past, whereby colonial employees could return to mother Britain and enjoy their pensions after their tour of overseas duties. In addition, the lifespan is much longer now. The historians in the UG's Admin should be aware of our history.

Just recently, the University of British Columbia (one of the top ranked 25 Universities in the world) scored a coup by attracting a Nobel Prize winner (Dr. Wieman) from a US University. The age of the scientist was 54, considered very young. He would not even be considered by UG for recruitment!

The retirement age for University personnel is about 65 years in North America . Most of the scientists do their best work in the late forties, fifties, and sixties.

Just look at the average age of the work cited for the award of Nobel Prize. It usually takes a very long time to be a superstar in your field. I do not know of any North American University that requires qualified personnel to retire at age 55.

The superstars (after retirement if they so desire) are kept on to do research or contract teaching. (This is when they begin to pursue patents.) These superstars add to the prestige of the University.

(Check out Harvard and Yale, the Nobel Laureates are given facilities to continue their work - this also attract other faculty, Post doctoral fellows, and graduate students). These very senior staff mentor the younger ones in their own quest for stardom and continued prestige of the University.

Instead of lamenting, why not change the mandatory retirement age to 65. After 65, the exceptional or needed people can be employed on a yearly or bi-annual contract. At 55, retirement may be optional.

(They can be kept on for research or the teaching of their speciality.) Even, if the retirement age is moved to 60 or just beyond it would still alleviate the current qualified staff crisis.

Let us look at what it takes to be a PhD in science. After one finishes high school, A' level (two additional years) may be done. Some work for a year or two to accumulate some money or take a break from studies.

The degree programme takes another three to five years. Some work again (two to three years) to save up some money for graduate school. In North America, it takes two years to complete a Master's degree.

After your Master's degree, one can spend three to six years to do a PhD (length depends on programme (courses and comprehensive exams) and research projects). In Britain there are usually no course requirements and comprehensive exams. That is why the North American PhD is better trained. The North American programmes are more broad-based.

After, your PhD in most scientific fields, one does two to three years of Post Doctoral studies. Some do a second or even a third stint of Post Doctoral studies. After all this training, one is not likely to take any nonsense from anyone - a right that has been earned.

So why does the UG Admin think highly qualified personnel will put up with their irregularities?

Do they really think that these people will calmly submit to the low standards, unpleasant experiences, non-academic and degrading treatment meted out by the UG Admin? Even the patient and dedicated Scientists (I can name a few) had reached their breaking points in their dealings with the UG's Administration. The UG Admin yet again hastened the departure of these well-qualified personnel. So who yet again is also contributing to the staffing problems at UG?

The salary scale for scientists and engineering professionals are naturally higher in keeping with market place demand.

Therefore, if you want to attract well-qualified personnel, pay them. It takes a long time to produce a well-trained scientist. Qualified scientists may be attracted with higher pay packages, research facilities, and conducive university environments.

The price of ignorance and defective training are even higher, and what we have now is not taking us anywhere. It is therefore time for new directions with new people at the helm of the educational forefront of Guyana .

Seelochan Beharry

http://www.kaieteurnewsgy.com/

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