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The role of government in higher education policy

In most developing countries, including Guyana, there is usually one ministry or governmental department that deals with education, and hence all public policy relating to education and post-secondary education tends to come out of this ministry or department. This policy is usually made manifest in the form of an education strategic plan, an education master plan or an education sector plan. In some countries, such as Malaysia, there is a separate ministry for post-secondary education and a separate strategic plan for post-secondary Education (Azman, Sirat & Ahmad, 2014, p. 306).

These education strategic or master plans tend to set the stage for five or ten years as to what the overarching government policy will be, the framework within which the government’s education policy will be implemented and the role the government will play in post-secondary education over that period. The role of the government in higher education policy in developing countries at any point in time is usually determined by the current education strategic or master plan, or part of a larger vision for the development of that nation. In Guyana, there is the ‘Education for Sustainable Development Policy’ and the ‘Guyana Education Sector Plan 2014-2018’; but in Malaysia, there is the ‘National Higher Education Strategic Plan 2020’, which arose out of the Mahathir’s ‘Vision 2020’ in 1991 where he envisioned Malaysia being a developed country by 2020 (Tham, 2013, p. 651). This led to education policy changes in Malaysia that would oversee the development of its human capital as part of his vision.

In the ‘Guyana Education Sector Plan 2014-2018’, “The Ministry defines education as more than the instrumental activity for supporting greater national development or reducing poverty” (Ministry of Education, Guyana, n.d., p. v) and that in recognizing the changing economic and technological climate it “requires that the Ministry commit to a policy of providing continuing education and training opportunities for the adult population” (Ministry of Education, Guyana, n.d., p. v). This outlines the role the government intends to play in driving and supporting higher education in Guyana over the next few years, and also the way it sees education as contributing to national development.

In the 2015 draft of the education for sustainable development policy (ESD), there is a plan to introduce the tenets of sustainable development into education at all levels in Guyana. It “seeks to introduce the principles of sustainability in all aspects of the formal, non-formal and informal education system in Guyana” (UNESCO, 2015, p.6). The policy recommends that post-secondary institutions focus on implementing “the teaching of Education for Sustainable Development and lead the research, development and application work needed to inform and realize sustainability in Guyana” (UNESCO, 2015, p.35). As is usually the case, the policy’s successful implementation will depend on the level of the Government’s commitment to it, how well they embrace it, and how it fits into their current political agenda.

The effect of migration on post-secondary education

The population estimates from UNICEF (n.d.) show that between 1990 and 2013 the population of Guyana grew from approximately 725,000 to 800,000. However, the total net migration ranged from -76,000 between 1985 and 1990, and -33,000 between 2010 and 2015 (UNICEF, n.d.). The data shows that there has never been a positive net migration in Guyana from 1985 to 2015, and many of these migrants were skilled workers - educators. In essence, over the last three decades Guyana has suffered catastrophic ‘brain drain’.

“The term ‘brain drain’ designates the international transfer of resources in the form of human capital and mainly applies to the migration of relatively highly educated individuals from developing to developed countries” (Beine, Docquier and Rapoport, 2008, p. 631). This is what has happened to Guyana over the last three decades and is supported by data from The World Bank (2009), which indicates that for the year 2000, the percentage of tertiary educated Guyanese that migrate is 89.2%. The Beine, Docquier and Rapoport article Brain drain and human capital formation in developing countries: winners and losers (2008), shows that there is an overall negative effect on the labour force of -94,604, a negative effect on the skilled labour force of -85,811 and a negative effect on the proportion of skilled [labour] of -17.9% (p. 647).

A breakdown of the categories of skilled migrants is not available, but having lived in Guyana during the 1980s and early 1990s the author is sure of a mass migration of educators to places such as The Bahamas, St. Lucia, The British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, and Bostwana because the effects of their loss was felt as it directly affected the number of teachers that left his secondary school during the mid to late 80s and early 90s. This migration of educators combined with unattractive salaries has also severely affected the faculty levels of the University of Guyana, where the Registrar in 2010 gave a conservative estimate that “there were at least 10 to 12 courses without lecturers at the Turkeyen campus” (Kaieteur News, 2010). While post-secondary instututions including the Guyana Technical Institute and the Cyril Potter College of Education are most likely also similarly affected by the migration of qualified educators, there is definitely a shortage of qualified educators in the technical and vocational post-secondary programs (Ministry of Education, Guyana, 2013).