`People interpret almost everything in terms of race...'
- Bisnauth

by Robert Bazil
Guyana Chronicle
August 17, 1999

EDUCATION Minister, Dr. Dale Bisnauth has disagreed with charges of discrimination and racism at the University of Guyana, but acknowledged that "people interpret almost everything that happens in Guyana in terms of race."

This type of thinking is unfortunate, Bisnauth told the Chronicle in an interview, adding that he had read some of the letters in the media about discrimination and racism at UG.

The minister reiterated that the reality in Guyana is that there is a tendency to see everything in terms of race.

He maintained that until people can transcend race, Guyana will not be able to deal with the problems it faces, but observed that sometimes people use the excuse of incompetence to claim that they are being discriminated against.

Bisnauth told the Chronicle that some of the programmes at the university can only accommodate a limited number of students and consequently, a scheme of selection has to be undertaken.

Some people may feel that admission to such programmes are most likely viewed in racial terms, Bisnauth said stating that any institution which is forced to rank applications will often be liable to these accusations.

Referring to charges of discrimination by one university staffer, the minister remarked: "I would like to see academics set the example by following regimens that are of their own discipline...investigate before coming to any conclusions."

He observed too that criticisms have also been made that UG caters primarily for people from Region Four, but pointed out that while 60 per cent of the intake for the new academic year is from the region, this allegation is not true.

The minister emphasised that this is not because of discrimination, but because of the dense population of Region Four. Additionally, some people use Region Four addresses although they are from other places.

Many Ministry of Education employees ask to be transferred to Region Four to attend the University of Guyana, he confirmed.

"The bottom line is that UG does not discriminate against people because they come from a particular region, nor do persons from Region Four have an advantage," he said.

He pointed to cultural factors noting that some people in rural areas do not want their children to be far away from and pointed to the irony in sending them overseas though.

On the requirement of a university in the 21st century, Bisnauth felt that education, especially at the tertiary level, should be prepared gradually to become engaged in the processes of development that will take place in the next century.

Towards this end, much more emphasis should be placed on the faculties of Natural Sciences and Technology, but if the country continues to experience a decline in students with science subjects from the high schools, this could pose a problem.

Responding to a claim by Vice-Chancellor, Professor Harold Lutchman that the fees at the university are too low, the minister said that Guyana is at a point in its history where it is moving from free education to cost effective education.

"I believe we will not be able to solve the problem until we arrive at a point where the funding for UG will not depend on fluctuations of the national economy," Bisnauth said.

The minister is a firm believer that students should pay for tuition at UG but this should be graduated in keeping with the need for persons to study in specific areas. He suggested that students doing subjects like Natural Sciences and Technology should pay less, as an incentive.

On the repayment of fees to the Ministry of Finance, he noted that the loans scheme fund was set up as a revolving mechanism but to date only $30M has been repaid by students.

While the government is by no means deaf to the notion that the fees should be revisited, Bisnauth explained that this has to be looked at together with other things like the efficiency with which UG operates.

The minister wants to see a number of measures in place to look at the student-staff ratios to see whether or not some departments are overstaffed.

"The Government would like to see any submissions for a raise in fees alongside plans for the efficient use of such funds," he said.

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