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The promise by President Irfaan Ali that his government is looking to make possible free university education by the end of 2024 is unacceptable. Guyanese need free university education now. Free education from nursery to university has been a national policy, programme and law since 1976. It became a right, enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana, since 1980. The violation of this right must not be delayed to 2024 or used as a political campaign tool.
The President is a member of the party – the People’s Progressive Party/Civic- whose government has deprived Guyanese of the right to free public education at their only national university, the University of Guyana (UG). The young and young at heart cannot and must not be forced to wait until 2024 to have this right restored.
With the new stream of revenue from oil and gas Guyanese can at least benefit from free tertiary education. There is no excuse denying this and elevating UG to world class status as part of our Local Content Policy. There should be investment in the citizenry’s intellectual capacity and capabilities. Those who want to pursue education at university should not be denied but many are being deterred because they fear they may not be able to repay the debt or from the inability to find suitable guarantors.
Where most citizens are poor, only an uncaring and self-serving government will continue to deprive the masses of educational empowerment. The 2024 target is therefore seen as political gimmickry and not commitment.
The A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change government had promised to restore the right to free education. Former President David Granger’s 5Bs programme- bus, bicycle, boats, breakfast and books- was a laudable private-public partnership to minimise hindrance to acquiring a nursery to secondary education. Given the priority the Coalition Government paid to education and the resulting successes and pass rates, free university education would have been an added incentive in the pursuit of an educated nation.
It is embarrassment that is forcing the present administration to acknowledge the right his party denied. It is unconscionable to saddle young students with debts even before they start working. This is a ploy to keep them poor or forever indebted. It is hard to pay rent or mortgage and meet basic expenses such as utility bills, transportation and food. The added burden of a student loan makes it harder for the young to see a future in Guyana.
No wonder more than two-thirds of university graduates look for the first opportunity to leave the country after graduating. The removal of the right to free education is destined to keep people poor, to create another class, which is the educated poor.
Asking students to pay for their education for four more years is a continuation of the government’s perpetual policy of poverty. It is designed to sustain the desire for two societies – one for the rich and one for the poor. The poor will not be because of not having a tertiary education but being saddled with a debt, and if lucky to be employed working for wages/salaries far beneath their qualifications.
Young people are being forced to decide if they should repay their loan, face starvation and or eviction. This is unacceptable. They need free education not from 2024. They need it now. Guyana’s technological advancement in response to this era is dependent on its education drive. It is no longer acceptable to be relying on the skills of other countries when Guyana has so many young people who can be educated and trained to compete and develop Guyana for Guyanese.
In the absence of vision a people perish. Instead of the government buying expensive inappropriate military hardware, top of the line vehicles for government ministers and functionaries, and spending money on other unnecessary trappings, the money could be well spent on university education. It is better to arm the brains not the brawns of the society. President Ali would do well to pay heed.