The University of Guyana Council has voted to implement a 35 per cent increase in student tuition fees over the next three years; and this is causing open outrage at that tertiary learning institution. Voting on the matter took place on Thursday, just two days after Vice Chancellor Ivelaw Griffith had first proposed the hike.
According to Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, the hike in UG tuition fees will do nothing to enhance education. Viewing it in conjunction with the 14 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on private tuition fees, which includes the fees at private universities, Jagdeo said this would negate opportunities for students to pursue higher education.
“You can’t say you want to achieve something and then pursue a policy that is totally opposed to those objectives! It’s the same with education. They said pre-election, ‘We want to expand education’, (Then) they introduced VAT on private education, then VAT on supplies for education services,” he pointed out.
“Now they’re going to increase the fees at the University of Guyana. This is not going to help with education,” said Jagdeo, an economist by training. “In fact it would retard the growth of education.”
Former Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy also criticised the move. He said he was shocked to see a report that the University of Guyana is considering an increase of about 35 per cent in fees. “As a citizen of Guyana, I can say unequivocally that the Vice-Chancellor of UG and the Council cannot count on me for support for any increase of fess for students at UG. I am certain that many people in Guyana feel the same way. I am certain that students and their families also reject such a proposal,” he said.
“At a time when the economy is clearly on a downward trajectory, and at a time when families have been forced to cut down on expenditures because their buying power has been under assault by a government that is looking for every way to increase the tax burden on people, it is unconscionable for either the UG management or APNU+AFC to consider any increase in student fees,” Ramsammy declared.
According to Ramsammy, education is a public good, and is a necessary part of developing the human capital, which is necessary for development.
He also referred to the recent introduction of VAT on private education. “I would encourage the VC and Council to not pursue any increases of student fees at UG. This will add to the retrogressive policy on education by the APNU/AFC government. I have always believed, and continue to believe, that UG has played a tremendous role in providing essential human resources for the development of Guyana.”
According to the University of Guyana Student Society (UGSS) Public Relations Officer Christina Basil, there were over seven hours of deliberations and presentations. Despite the physical protests from students which have already confronted the increases, the Council agreed to approve the motion of a tuition increase.
She said the Council, with the exception of UGSS President Ron Glasgow, agreed for an increase of 15, 10, and 10 per cent over the 2017 to 2018, 2018 to 2019, and 2019 to2020 academic years.
“UGSS President Mr (Ron) Glasgow was presented with the actual UG Budget, which shows that we were operating at a projected deficit,” she said. “The Bursar made this staggering revelation via documentation which will be made public to all students shortly.
“Please be assured that the UGSS administration did not go down without a fight against the tuition increase. At present, we are still wholly against the increase, but the reality is (that) it is now out of our jurisdiction,” Basil said, while adding that UGSS is aware of the economic hardships faced by the majority of students.
On Thursday, as the council meeting was getting underway, the dissatisfaction of students manifested itself in protest action. Students organised themselves outside of the Education Lecture Theatre and staged this protest. Many were dissatisfied at the sudden manner in which the increases were proposed and voted upon.
Many of the students complained about issues such as poor and sometimes no internet connectivity, as well as poorly ventilated classrooms and inadequate equipment to do their school work. Expressing outrage at the proposed increase, the students were adamant that no one is doing students a favour by enhancing facilities on the Turkeyen campus, since the students are mandated to pay separate facilities fees.
At present, each student pays $60,000 in facility fees per annum. There are in excess of 5000 students at UG, spread out across the Faculties of Agriculture and Forestry, Health Sciences, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Technology, School of Education and Humanities, and the School of Earth and Environmental Science.