ESTABLISHMENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GUYANA
Close this window to return to the main menu
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Undoubtedly, the most important event in the field of education during the PPP administration was the establishment of the University of Guyana (UG). The groundwork planning for the founding of the UG actually began in late 1959, and much work was put into this process. This was noted by the UNESCO Mission which visited Guyana from late 1962 and early 1963 to conduct an educational survey on the invitation of the Government. The members expressed to the Premier, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, their great surprise that so much planning could have been completed in a mere three years.
The university was established and incorporated by an Ordinance enacted in the House of Assembly in April 1963. The policy of the PPP Government in setting up this institution was aimed at creating an intellectual nucleus in Guyana, partly as a centre around which some systematic definition of the national goals could take place, and partly as a defence against the persistent battering from external colonialist and reactionary ideas which were seriously undermining colonial and developing societies.
The policy was also aimed at training middle-range technical cadres in large numbers; to train an adequate number of high level professionals to exercise intellectual leadership in Guyana and to man positions of high responsibility; and to undertake active research.
The University Ordinance specified that "no religious, political or racial test shall be imposed on or be required of any person in order to entitle him to be a student or member of staff of the University. . . ."
The first Chancellor of the UG was the distinguished Guyanese scholar, Edgar Mortimer Duke, while the first Principal and Vice-Chancellor was the world-famous British mathematician, scientist and educator, Dr. Lancelot Hogben.
With the commencement of classes, it was hoped that the university would produce teachers, highly qualified personnel for the public service, and the scientists, technologists and technicians needed for the national programme of agricultural and industrial development. In addition, it was expected that it would provide a focus for the intellectual life of the community and a place where the merits of particular solutions to Guyana's problems might be tested by arguments and experiments.
On establishment, the UG consisted of the Faculties of Arts, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences. It was the proposal of the PPP Government to associate the research sections of the Geological Surveys and Forestry Department with the UG as research institutes. It was also intended that the Government Training College for teachers would become the proposed Institute of Education of the university. Close relations were also to be established with the Guyana School of Agriculture, founded also in 1963, and with the Government Technical Institute which had been expanded and reorganised in 1959.
The eager response of Guyanese to the new opportunities for higher education was demonstrated by the large numbers who applied from all over the country for the limited number of places available. Out of the 680 applicants, 179 were admitted.
The university commenced classes on the 1 October 1963 and used the Queen's College building and other rented buildings in Georgetown as teaching centres. (The large tract of land at Turkeyen, where the university campus is located today, was in 1963 handed to the PPP Government by the Booker Group of Companies, the British multinational which at that time owned most of the sugar estates, among other businesses, in Guyana.)
In order to make it easier for those Guyanese who normally would not have been able to afford the time and money for higher studies abroad, the UG had some special features. Classes were held between 18:00 and 22:00 hours, five evenings per week, thus ensuring that working people could attend. Tuition fees were a token 100 dollars per year - a figure well within the reach of all income groups.
While steps were being taken to bring university education within the range of all, there was no lowering of standards. Visiting assessors from well-established universities abroad were appointed and they held discussions with the staff and reported on standards. They also examined question papers and advised on syllabuses. In addition, Guyanese lecturers such as Dr. Harold Drayton, with their qualitative teaching, played an instrumental role in laying a strong academic foundation for the new university.
Clearly, the establishment of the UG was aimed at providing higher education for a large number of Guyanese who could not have afforded to study in foreign universities. It was even felt that the University of the West Indies (UWI), to which Guyana was subscribing large sums of money annually, was not providing enough service to the country since only a small number of Guyanese could afford to attend classes at that institution which had campuses in Jamaica and Trinidad. Between 1948 and 1963, Guyana sent 1.8 million Eastern Caribbean dollars to the UWI, but during this period there were only 97 graduates from Guyana. Of this total, 57 did not return home to benefit their country with their skills.
When the PPP Government compared the needs of the country with the costs of the UWI and its results, it decided to withdraw its financial support for the UWI as soon as Guyanese students then enrolled were graduated. The money would instead be channelled into the University of Guyana. However, following consultations between a number of Caribbean Governments and the Government of Guyana, this decision to withdraw from the funding of the UWI was revoked.
The establishment of the university met with opposition at the political level. It was obvious from the beginning that pro-imperialist interests were being trampled upon with the setting up of the university since it was aimed at expanding skills and knowledge to a greater section of Guyanese, and also because the training of more skilled people would put the nation in a position to intensify the stiff struggle for total independence. In these circumstances both the PNC and UF opposed the establishment of the university, even claiming that Guyana was too small to have such an institution, and the PNC even insultingly referred to the university as "Jagan Night School". However, by 1964 the institution had already become firmly established and had also gained international recognition. Later, even the PNC and UF were to accept the university as an important asset in the development of Guyana.