History of the University of Guyana 1983-1984

History This Week
By Arlene Munro
Stabroek News
September 23, 2005

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During the 1980s, the history of the University of Guyana was marked by a shortage of funding because of the country's economic problems and the shortage of foreign currency. Dr Clive Thomas, in describing the decline of the country, stated: "…the government sought to enforce a reduction in the real wage in order to overcome the production crisis and its manifestations of declining output, sales and surpluses in the state sector, domestic inflation and foreign exchange and balance of payments crises."

The University of Guyana was adversely affected by these developments. This article seeks to chronicle the history of the university between 1983 and 1984.

During the year 1983-1984 the members of the Faculty of Natural Sciences researched solar energy and the analysis of tumeric for heavy metals and cancer. A seminar series was held and coordinated by Dr Ken Smith.

The postgraduate programme in the faculty was restarted by Professor Bishun. It was reported that small numbers of students registered with the faculty. Two full-time tutors were appointed to the Physics Department and the Biology Department.

It was difficult to maintain the physical facilities. In December 1983 a Natural Science Staff Common Room was opened. The faculty performed 'important functions' at the Institute of Applied Science and Technology in the area of Analytic Chemistry and Solar Energy. Members of the faculty contributed to the 'Topics of Turkeyen' Programme. Subsequently, the department prepared proposals for funding from the Inter-American Development Bank.

Fifty-seven students registered for the degree programme and six graduated. There was a decline in the quality of service and the standard of work in the faculty.

I. Ramdass and H. Mohamedeen received Com-monwealth Awards, while I. Bisnauth received an award from the Inter-University Council. Dr. T. Singh was offered a Commonwealth Fellowship to pursue studies in aquaculture at Sterling University. Z. Bacchus received funding from the Institute of Applied Science and Technology and the IDRC for his research on Hydrobiology.

In the Department of Chemistry, ten students graduated. Nine undergraduate students were admitted to the Department in 1983-1984. One postgraduate student registered.

The Faculty of Social Sciences continued to receive the largest numbers of students (38 per cent of the total UG enrolment). It is noteworthy, however, that the numbers were smaller than in previous years.

The faculty's students were hindered by the shortage of textbooks and journals in the library and bookshop. Staff development and overseas programmes were hindered by the lack of foreign currency.

The university was unable to fund student projects off campus.

The faculty received a visiting team from the University of the West Indies on June 19, 1984. The Law Library's facilities were reviewed as well by the law librarians. The University of the West Indies' team made certain recommendations. Firstly, it recommended that the Attorney-General's Library should offer its literature to the university library. Secondly, it advised that legal materials should be bought for the library.

The faculty planned postgraduate programmes for the new academic year, 1985-1986. They were M. Phil, and Ph.D programmes. The faculty also held discussions on "rationalising and consolidating departmental efforts."

The faculty made a decision to start a new postgraduate diploma programme in Development Studies. The aim of the programme was to "increase the skills of development practitioners engaged in decision making in the public and private sectors." The Dean of the Faculty was R.W. James. John Dukhai resigned and Ballayram departed on study leave to pursue an M.A. Programme.

A women's study group was started at the university on March 8, 1984, International Women's Day. The aim of the group was "to generate and disseminate knowledge on the position of women in society by promoting teaching, research and documentation in the area of women's study." The group planned to work closely with other women's groups on the campus of the University of the West Indies. The University of Guyana Campus Coordinator was Sybil Patterson from the Department of Sociology.

The university planned to launch a postgraduate course in Development Studies and a Master's of Philosophy Degree Programme in Development Studies in October 1984. The aim of the programme was to teach modern techniques of organising the development of the nation's human and natural resources. It would focus on development planning, development administration, development finance, and economic and social innovations based on the domestic situation.

The Guyana Chronicle of 1984-03-27 reported that a symposium on 'The Struggle of African Freedom Fighter and Political Prisoner Nelson Mandela' was held at the University of Guyana on March 27, 1984. The speakers were Archivist Tommy Payne, University Lecturer Ron Jordan, and Assistant Chief Political Adviser to the President Halim Majeed. The event was organised by the University of Guyana Student Society.

The Faculty of Technology restructured the Diploma in Technology Programme (Mining Engineering) and reintroduced it in 1983-1984. The Degree Programme in Electrical Engineering was also restructured and reintroduced that year. It was difficult to recruit staff and therefore the Faculty of Technology continued to depend on associate and part-time lecturers.

The faculty buildings were in poor condition. The roofs were leaking. Tools, machine parts and electrical fittings were stolen. Space for staff members was limited.

The New Building Society donated money for the construction of a new building. The head of department, realizing that the money was inadequate, returned to the New Building Society. Consequently, "…permission was granted to utilize the money as proposed by the department."

Special students from the Guyana Electricity Corpora-tion and Guyana Telecom-munications Corporation registered for Engineering Mathematics and Electrical Courses. The Department of Electrical Engineering introduced a part of the CHM 251 course for the Department of Chemistry. Six mining engineering diplomates were registered as special students.

R.I. Choo-Shee-Nam, Coordinator of Surveying, attended the Second International Technical Hydrographic Conference in Plymouth, United Kingdom.

Dr. M. Budhu resigned from his post as Senior Lecturer, Department of Civil Engineering. Samuel Wright resigned from the Division of Mining Engineering.

Walter Davis went to pursue his Masters Degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Notre Dame in the USA. He was on a Fullbright/Laspau award. Michael Harris went to the University of Leeds to pursue a Master in Mining Engineering Degree. He received a Public Service Ministry Award.

A.M.B. Sankies served as GAPE's representative on the Energy Advisory Council, UNESCO Commission. Ralph Seegobin served as the Faculty Representative on the Guyana National Bureau of Standards' Board. Michael Harris served as the university representative on the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission. Joan Williams served as Secretary to the Civil Engineering Department and attended the International Girl Guides Camp in Trinidad in April 1984.

L. Hermendez of the Department of Architecture was attached to the Ministry of Housing on July 1, 1984. Marva Burke went to Delft University, Holland to complete arrangements for the Delft-University of Guyana joint research project entitled 'Roads and Development.'

The faculty received a financial grant for final-year student projects from the public and private sectors, namely, Willems' Timber and Trading Company, the Guyana Rice Board and Gafson's Industries. It was recommended that final-year students should spend their long vacations working with organisations on projects.

During the year A.V. France, R. Naraine, M. Hussein, W. Joseph, S. Wright, J.D.N Punwassee, J. Blair, L. Roberts and V. Henry joined the staff of the faculty. Marlon Ritchie visited the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organisations in Australia from January to February 1984 to discuss Desiccant Solar Cookery.

The Faculty Coordinating Committee visited secondary schools in the Georgetown and Greater Georgetown areas to encourage students to enrol with the faculty during 1984-1985. Furthermore, the Department of Architecture began to publish "Architec-ture Current Papers" which dealt with architectural topics for use in Guyana and the Caribbean.

These were some of the main developments which occurred at the University of Guyana in the period, 1983-1984. Others will be outlined in the second instalment of this article.

This second instalment of this article will continue the focus on Guyana in the academic year 1981-1984. It is noteworthy that the economic problems of the country had adversely affected the University of Guyana. The Faculty of Agriculture also experienced problems. Staff members had to work without classroom, laboratories, equipment, and chemicals. The faculty lacked supplies of ultra centrifuges and spectrophotometers.

There was also a need for 20 full-time staff.

The Dean of the Faculty noted that in the years prior to 1993 the quality and quantity of students had been declining, but in 1993-1984 the total number of students in the faculty increased.

However, there was a shortage of lecture rooms, laboratory space, staff/teaching, materials, books and journals.

The faculty had no building exclusive to its use. The dean hoped that the European Economic Community would finance the building of offices, laboratories and lecture rooms.

The design which the architect submitted in 1982 was already approved. It was proposed to construct a temporary building, including two lecture rooms, laboratory space, one office room, one store room, and a few lecturers' rooms. Ten full-time lecturers were needed. The faculty operated four departments, including the Department of Crop Science, the Department of Soil Science, and Agricultural Chemistry, the Department of Animal and Dairy Science, and the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension Education.

Full-time staff did most of the teaching. Emphasis was placed on the development of curricula and maintaining close liaison and cooperation with various national, regional and international agencies.

Prospective students had to have passes in five subjects at CXC or GCE at not more than two sittings. Passes in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and English Language were required.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the University of Guyana and the Caribbean Agricultural Research Development Institute. Dean of the faculty S.K. Prashad and F.H. Asiedu researched and published scholarly articles. Asiedu presented a paper at the First Biennial Conference of the Society of Professional Agriculturists of Guyana, September 5-9, 1983. The paper was entitled 'Constraints to livestock production of Guyana'. Prashad published 'Population Dyna-mics of Plant Parasite Nematodes' as an invitational article in a commemoration volume for Professor Abrar Khan, Botany Department, AMU Aligarh, India.

In the Faculty of Education the total number of students admitted to all programmes was 153 in 1983-1984. Thirteen students registered for the Special Education Course, 58 students for the Certificate in Technical Education Course, 46 for the Bachelor in Education Programme and 36 for the Diploma in Education.

The faculty worked on the reintroduction of the Master in Education programme. It tried to improve the practice of education and created an outreach programme of workshops in Instructional Plan-ning and Supervision for teachers and administrators in the interior.

Staff members did not return from study and sabbatical leave and other staff members went on leave. The staff who remained had a lot of work to do.

Some staff members who were due for leave were unable to go overseas because of the lack of financial support. A visiting professor, W.W. Anderson, spent most of his sabbatical year working with the Department of Foundations and Administra-tion.

The Department of Extra Mural Studies expanded its activities during the year. Its major achievement was the successful piloting of its proposal for expansion to an institute through the academic board. This proposal was approved in December 1983. It called for the establishment of an Institute of Adult and Continuing Education.

Another five-week residential course was held from August 2 - September 2, 1983. It was conducted by four lecturers from Hudders-field; two taught Technical Education and the others Business Studies.

George Oluipke received a LASPAU award to pursue a Master's Degree at Miami University, Ohio.

The Department of Edu-cation faced many problems. There was a paucity of teaching materials, books and photocopying facilities. There was also a lack of adequate transportation and cafeteria services, which caused students to be late for classes. Consequently, the Diploma in Education Programme was affected. There was a shortage of education journals as well. The financial constraints meant that there were no funds for attending conferences. The Dean was Irma King.

The Faculty of Arts suffered financial constraints during the year 1983-1984. Its staff members were unable to attend local and overseas conferences. The M.A. Pro-gramme in the Department of Geography was started. The Department of Modern Lan-guages and Caribbean Studies received permission to offer foreign languages without requiring that the student study literature. Modern languages students were able to select minors in the Social Sciences. A minor in Caribbean Studies was offered.

During the year 1983-1984 various faculty members presented papers at conferences. Members of the Department of History and Division of Caribbean Studies sat on a panel to discuss 'The PPP Government of 1953' at the Conference of the Association of Caribbean Historians. Drs Robinson and Rollins of the Department of English read papers at the conference on West Indian Literature. Dr Stephanos Stephanides presented papers at the VIIth Conference of Hispanists at the University of the West Indies. Roberta Kilkenny presented a paper on 'Women in the original PPP'. Cicely John wrote the introduction to the 1867 Arawak Glossary for the Journal of Anthropology and Archaeology of the Vincent Roth Museum of Anthropol-ogy. The Turkeyen Journal was published for the first time by the Faculty of Arts.

The Amerindian Research Unit was headed by Hubert Wong and started a weekly programme, 'Focus on Amerindians' it also gave advisory services to government agencies.

The Faculty of Arts and the Department of English both offered seminars.

In 1983 the following persons joined the Faculty of Arts: Sulakshmi Dewprashad was appointed Research Assistant from October 1, 1983; Vanda Radzik was re-appointed temporary Assis-tant Lecturer with effect from September 1, 1983; Depak Kumar and James Rose joined the Department of History in September 1983 as full-time members; Dr Korrattyil from India came to teach Latin American History; Bentley English also joined the department; Dr Chanderbali rejoined the staff after completing his doctorate in Australia.

A group of history specialists met at a UNESCO workshop to discuss the drafting of chapters and to recommended authors to write a book entitled Autochthonous Societies. The book was to be edited by Professor Mary Noel Menezes, Head, Department of History, University of Guyana. The volume would be a study of aboriginal societies, which lived in North, South and Central America, the Guianas and the Caribbean.

During the year 1983-1984, the university administration was concerned about the serious financial constraints, which had affected the development of the library. The Technical Services Division continued to operate without a head. However, an experienced non-professional who had completed her degree returned to work at Technical Services and successfully supervised the work. A part-time cataloguer guided the work of the Cataloguing Department, which catalogued 8,300 items that year. In addition, five library assistants from five government libraries were trained.

In the Acquisitions Department attempts were made to acquire books from the local stores as well as the private collections of W. Trembley, Prof. N.E. Cameron and R.C.G. Potter. The university received most of the books from the British High Commission and the Netherlands Government. The Guyana Chronicle of 1984-12-18 stated that the Netherlands Ambassador to the government donated $40,000 worth of science books to the university. The university also received books from the United States Information Service, the Embassy of the Peoples Republic of Korea, the Indian High Commission and Guysuco.

The library also received gifts from Professor W. Carr, E. Cox, Dr H. Johnson, Prof G. Lederer, Dr W. McGowan, Sis M. N. Menezes and A. Thompson. The library received as a donation from the Institute of Common-wealth Studies a collection of antiquarian books from the West India Committee Library. The Guyana Chronicle of 1984-08-21 started that the Federal Republic of Germany donated 50 volumes of German literature to the university library.

After presenting the volumes, Rolf Schulze, the Second Secretary in the embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Trinidad and Tobago, held discussions with Dr George Walcott, Vice-Chancellor, on the possibility of receiving a grant from the German Agency for Technical Cooperation and the purchase of scientific equipment for the university. There were 150 exchange transactions with 72 institutions in 44 countries.

Once again, the library functioned without a book budget or foreign exchange allocation.

Therefore, the library was unable to order books from aboard. The library purchased UNESCO coupons, which were used to settle many long outstanding debts to overseas book dealers.

The old building still needed to be remodelled. It was difficult to acquire microfilm, microfiche readers, bookends, binding materials and furniture.

Only nine of the 18 professional posts were filled this year. Six graduate assistants were also on staff. Training awards made it possible for trainee librarians to go overseas to pursue postgraduate studies.

Jean Craigwell attended workshops on 'the Training of Users of Agricultural Information Systems' in Trinidad under the sponsorship of the Food and Agricultural Organisation. Judith Allsopp and Joel Benjamin attended a UNESCO-sponsored meeting of the planning committee for the preparation of the section of Autochthonous Peoples of a Projected Caribbean History and Yvonne Stephenson attended a workshop on microcomputers at the University of Miami under the sponsorship of the National Technical Information Service and the Organisation of American States.

The university library trained staff from government libraries and gave advice on the organisation of a number of libraries.

It also provided information service to some libraries and government services and functionaries.

Its staff worked on boards, committees and other bodies outside the university. They also gave support to the National Commemoration commission for the 150th anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery.

On 12th January 1984, a small ceremony was held at the University of Guyana library observing the 70th birthday of Arthur J. Seymour. He was a poet, short-story writer, essayist and critic.

He edited the Kyk-over-al Journal from 1945 to 1961. In this occasion, A.J. Seymour presented a copy of his book, AJS at 70, to the university library.

Approximately 362 students graduated from the University of Guyana on 27th October 1984. Fourteen medals and prizes were given away.

A reception was held for the graduands at the University House, Pere Street, Kitty. While addressing the 18th Convocation of the University, Dr Walcott spoke about the financial constraints which affected the university, eg the lack of foreign currency.

He mentioned the university's involvement in three fund-raising schemes: negotiations with the Inter-American Development Bank for funding of a Manpower Development Project. Another scheme was started for the soliciting of contributions from alumni of the university. In a subsequent article I will chronicle the history of the University of Guyana, focusing on the academic year 1984-1985.