OUR UNIVERSITY, OUR PRIDE

I FELT deep emotion and pride as I attended the 53rd Convocation for the presentation of graduands which was held yesterday, in two batches, at the University of Guyana’s Turkeyen Campus.

I was honoured, on behalf of President Granger, to present the President as well as the Prime Minister’s Medals to four of the best graduating students. This year just under 2,000 students graduated in several disciplines, the vast majority being females.

UNFORGETTABLE OCCASION
It was for me an unforgettable occasion to see teachers and nurses, mostly girls and women, graduating especially in education, medicine and public administration. I saw pregnant would-be mothers graduating, so they could better take care of their own needs, and to provide for their future.

It was therefore fitting that the feature address was delivered by Madam Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, Guyana’s first woman Chancellor of the Judiciary, who exhorted the graduands to remain in Guyana since “the grass is greener here.”
The positive show of determination and discipline by our women scholars should send a strong message to our society that it is time for Guyana to advance the United Nations sustainable goal of women comprising one-half of both the National Assembly and the Cabinet.

At a time when controversies rage over fake degrees, I am pleased to say that President Granger and I, as well as several Ministers of Government, are authentic graduates from the University of Guyana. And in our midst, is a large contingent of highly qualified women ministers and parliamentarians!

NEW CHANCELLOR
During yesterday’s ceremonies, the distinguished Guyanese and West Indian scholar, Professor John Edward Greene, was installed as the new Chancellor of our national university.

This university started in 1963 at Queens College with just over 50 students graduating in 1967. I was honoured to be associated at that time with persons from the first batch, such as Dr Martin Boodhoo and Dr Perry Mars, in forming the country’s first national students’ association, which was short-lived.

Since then, after the university moved to its present Turkeyen Campus, it has seen rapid expansion to the Berbice Campus and, through extra-mural classes, to Anna Regina, Linden and New Amsterdam. Last year over 8,000 students were enrolled, some for on-line studies from which the first batch graduated yesterday.

From the university’s records, some 22,000 students have graduated from this national institution. Tuition was initially free up to 1994, after which a revolving fund was established to provide long-term, repayable loan to students.

With emphasis on education during the Decade of Development that President Granger has announced, and given anticipated additional revenues from oil production, Guyana should be able to re-introduce free tertiary education as a constitutional right.

QUALITY OF EDUCATION
The policy to improve the quality of education nationwide, and to make it both affordable and accessible, remains one of the strongest messages of this Coalition Government that it really cares for the welfare of our people, and a secure future for our children.
Over the past four years, there has been a virtual revolution in Guyana’s education system. We have, in more recent times, seen phenomenal improvements in passes at examinations, resulting from government’s Three A Policy (Access, Attendance and Achievements).
In recent years over 1,000 new teachers have been trained, some of whom have opted for higher education at the university. New incentives have been put in place for our teachers and other public servants. These include increased clothing, station and hinterland allowances, as well as a big pay rise.

Graduates in the Public Service can now look forward to earning more, as the increases announced last week have placed cumulatively, salary hike at 77% over a four-year period. Minister Jordan has said that, once oil proceeds continue to flow, salaries will be improved “now and for ever more.” Indeed, the grass will be greener in Guyana for all working people.

The monthly minimum wage has jumped from just over $39,000 to $70,000 in less than five years! Some may argue that it is not enough, but gone are the years when public servants had to eke out a livelihood on mere pittance and, as shown in a 2011-2015 human development index, over 40% of our people were on the poverty line. That was during the Jagdeo-Ramotar administrations.

GOLDEN FUTURE
We have not as yet arrived at the ideal position to keep at home all of our newly qualified and trained personnel, but our government has been working hard to ensure that those on the job have more disposable incomes. For example, thousands of employees have been taken off the Income tax list, as those earning annually $780,000 or less do not pay personal taxes. For 2018, as well as 2019, the salary increases are retroactive to January, and are paid as a tax-free lump sum.

It was this Coalition Government that reduced the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 16% to 14 %, and expanded the list of VAT-FREE goods. Workers could now stretch their dollars. The lead taken by government also assisted workers in the private sector, which upped the minimum wage to $225 per hour. Of course, the private sector could argue that it could pay more as a result of a reduction by this government in corporate tax from 40% to 25%.
As we welcome the new university graduates into the work force, we can assure them with confidence that a viable, golden future awaits them.

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