The plan to raise tuition fees at the University of Guyana by a whopping 35% is a part of the shameful project to neo-liberalise the university. This is not something peculiar to Guyana; it is affecting universities in every country that is pursuing the neo-liberal capitalist agenda. The plan is to reshape the university from academy to corporate entity, where the profit motive reigns supreme and where any discipline that is not considered ‘marketable’ is marginalised with the aim of eventually removing it all together.
Describing the neo-liberal university, Michael Rustin, a fierce critic of this commercialisation of higher education, said that “the university has to adopt the mind-set of a commercial provider or retailer…”
Our current Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ivelaw Griffith, is an advocate of this mindset, and I daresay was appointed to drive this agenda. This policy will have the same devastating effects at UG that it has had in so many other universities worldwide; that is, the restriction of access to higher education to a wealthy minority, coupled with a severe limiting of the entire scope and notion of education on offer. When this happens, it is our young people who suffer.
Many will not be able to afford to attend university, and those who manage to attend would lack the ability to think critically because critical thinking can only be developed when education is holistic, integrative, comprehensive, and culturally relevant. To develop critical thinking, universities must provide knowledge not only in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, referred to as the STEM subjects, but also in such disciplines as philosophy, theology, history, political science, etc.
However, the neo-liberal order has no desire to promote critical thinking. Rather, under its auspices, education has been reduced to mere certification to enter the marketplace.
Who would have believed that self-proclaimed progressive politicians such as Minister of Education Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine and his adviser Vincent Alexander would allow for such a reactionary education agenda to be rolled out under their watch?
Education is not a commodity to be determined by market forces. Do not be fooled by those who tell us that free education in Guyana is not viable and sustainable. Forbes Burnham was once asked by one of his cabinet ministers, “Can we afford free education?” His answer was, “Can we afford not to afford it?” Burnham was correct. Studies on the relationship between education and economic growth and development confirm what we already know from common sense: that there is a strong correlation between access to education, the ability of the educated populace to critically think and problem-solve, and economic growth and prosperity.
With Guyana’s resources and the size of our population, free education is most definitely viable, and is a necessity if we are to build a real democracy. However, free education can only be realised when we have a government that has the courage and vision to move beyond the existing neo-liberal capitalist arrangement.
Across the globe, university lecturers and students are resisting the neo-liberalisation of their universities, and we in Guyana must do the same.
Organisation for the Victory of the People (OVP), along with UG lecturers, UGSS, UG students and all Guyanese youths who are hoping to pursue tertiary education, opposes the raising of tuition fees and other draconian measures being pursued. It is time to not only make education at the University of Guyana free, but also to use the wealth of this country to make UG a leading academic institution, respected regionally and globally. Believe me when I say it can be done.
Gerald A Perreira