UG – University of Guyana: From Jagan’s Night School to Burnham’s Recognized University – By Freddie Kissoon

UG: A personal insult to Forbes Burnham which must be stopped

Oct 01, 2018  By Freddie Kissoon

I am not a fan of Forbes Burnham. As a Guyanese citizen engaged in social and political activism and a trained academic writing on my country’s history, I cannot bring myself to be an unqualified admirer of Burnham. He had vision, was a transformative thinker, and a fighter against White domination of Guyana.
But he had power instincts that took on ugly dimensions the consequences of which are still visible in this land.

As someone who writes on contemporary Guyana, I see nakedly foolish things said about Burnham that are simply not true and these things when repeated tells you more about the fools who echo them rather than the man they are writing about.     

On every occasion when the history of UG or people once gloriously associated with UG is being written about, certain observers cynically (and perhaps with a touch of racist mentality) remind us that Forbes Burnham as Opposition Leader once referred to the establishment of UG as “Jagan night school.” 

This nasty distortion of Guyanese history is sickening to those who study history. Jagan founded UG when he was head of the government in May 1963. The next year after birthing UG, Jagan lost the government and Forbes Burnham headed it. Burnham became in charge of UG in December 1964. It meant that the Jagan administration had a mere year and a half in shaping UG.

The factual data put Jagan as the founder of UG. The factual data show that Burnham made it into a great institution. The University of Guyana then is a baby of both Jagan and Burnham. As Opposition Leader, Burnham did sarcastically call it, “Jagan’s night school.” It essentially catered for part time students who attended in the evenings and only a handful of subjects were offered.

Burnham took up the offer to relocate UG on lands donated by Bookers at Turkeyen. By 1973, Burnham created a phenomenon out of UG for which extensive praise must be given to him. More faculties were offered. High class professors from all over the world, literally all over the world, descended on UG. The labs were on par with any other university.

-Sugar money was bountiful as the Rastas would say and Burnham poured saccharine dollars into UG. By 1975, UG was as good as many of the world’s universities. By 1975, UG and UWI were on equal footing.

The history of UG is the history of Jagan founding it and Burnham making something out of it. No historian is worth reading if he/she pontificates on UG’s history and omits the seminal role of Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham. One wonders what really the reason is to keep repeating Burnham’s words of “Jagan’s night school?

Are such people ingrained racist? Are such people irrational Jaganite fanatics? Are such people deliberately bent on falsifying Guyana’s history? Are such people so poor intellectually, living as tenth rate citizens in other countries after running away from Guyana, that they are stuck in a time zone that belonged to the seventies?

Let’s look at that insult – Jagan’s night school of which the latest repetition comes from one of the first UG graduates, Harry Hergash in Canada. Writing a eulogy in a letter to this newspaper on Dr. Harold Drayton who died recently, Hergash in looking at the early role of Drayton in the establishment of UG, didn’t fail to remind us of the sarcastic words of Burnham. It was unnecessary and irrelevant (and irreverent) but Hergash probably couldn’t help himself.

Opposition Leaders in the world say crazy things just for the sake of opposing. All opposition figures at one time denounced positive things the government of the day did. Why keep lamenting on Jagan’s night school when the very Cheddi Jagan, when in opposition, rejected many essential institutions Prime Minister Burnham gave Guyana?

Research would show Jagan rejected the NIS – National Insurance Scheme. Today, the NIS constitutes one of the most priceless institutions in this country whose demise would have dire consequences for almost ninety percent of the people of Guyanese.

Jagan rejected the Sugar Levy in 1974, voting against the legislation in Parliament but never touched it when he became president in 1992. His successor Janet Jagan never touched it. President Jagdeo retained it. All three presidents made use of the Sugar Levy.

Jagan denounced government taking over of the Chronicle under Burnham. Jagan, his wife and their handpicked underling, Bharrat Jagdeo, used the Chronicle as a floor cloth in ways Burnham never did. When one condemns Burnham for referring to UG in 1963 as Jagan’s night school, it denies the great role Burnham played in the rich life of UG.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • guyaneseonline  On October 3, 2018 at 1:14 am

    Foresight caused the birth of NIS
    Commentary – By Adam Harris

    Forty-nine years ago, Prime Minister Forbes Burnham conceived the idea that there should be a National Insurance Scheme.
    Whatever sparked the idea I would never know because the thought process was not documented.
    I do remember the protest from the political opposition that Burnham was taking money from the poor people. The complaint that Burnham was taxing the masses beyond their capability was taken up. Contribution to the scheme was compulsory.
    Back when actual contributions began in October 1969 every contributor was given a card to accommodate his every contribution. At a glance a person could know how many contributions he or she had made.
    It was not long before the scheme became a norm but there had to be changes. Inflation saw an increase in contributions by both the employer and the contributor. The complaints continued.
    I don’t remember when the cards disappeared. However, the scheme kept the records. There were many people with the same name, differentiated only by their dates of birth but it was up to the staff of the Scheme to get the right contributions placed in the records of the right person. It goes without saying that human error led to mistakes.
    By then there were files which were stored in rooms, piles and piles of files.
    As time moved on these files had to be transferred to a more convenient form. Computers had arrived and soon entries were made on computers. But there were files that had to be computed. I remember when Chairman of the Board, Dr Roger Luncheon announced that the computerization had begun. But by then some files had deteriorated. The pages had become fragile because Guyana has never been able to properly secure documents.
    I remember going to the archives and seeing valuable documents lying on the floor. I saw a letter written by Coffy to the governor of Amsterdam. I saw the first edition of New Nation. There were priceless documents in the archives. At the time it was housed on Main Street. I am certain some of those documents have been lost forever.
    It was the same with archival material at what was then known as the Guyana Film Centre. It made films back then. There were many that captured Guyana as it was then but sadly, after 1992, poor storage saw most of them disappearing forever.
    Some of the files at the NIS suffered the same fate. But fortunately most were saved. Today, some people who have attained the age of sixty still have problems with their contributions. Some of them are requested to get testimonials to support their claim of employment at certain locations.
    What was amazing was that the same scheme that was seen as an unnecessary tax on the people became a cash cow for many. Dr. Luncheon approved loans to businessmen who repaid at a relatively low interest rate.
    Indeed, the scheme needed to invest its money if it had to make payments to the aging population and invest it did.
    There were those who sought to milk the scheme but a change in government meant that they had to pay back the money they borrowed.
    Today, thousands of contributors have something to look forward to now that their active working days are over. Maternity mothers get money for the period they are off the job; injured workers get something to keep them going.
    There was a time when cane farmers mutilated themselves to access NIS money. Some capitalised on situation until they were caught and prosecuted.
    I am a beneficiary. Whenever I need a pair of spectacles the Scheme helps with some of the cost. Indeed I get a pension, too.
    But it is not all well. Scarcely a day goes by without someone complaining about problems with accessing money due to them. It all goes back to the records, some of which have disappeared and some to lazy workers who could not take the time to go through dusty files.
    The one good thing is that there is a General Manager who is very accommodating. She insists that everyone gets his entitlement. She has to take into consideration that the scheme is operating at a deficit, helped in part by investments with Clico made by the previous government.
    The present administration is replacing the lost money but the scheme is still running at a deficit. Many people do not contribute because they fail to see the long term benefit. Forbes Burnham did but they do not. It is not until old age steps in that they experience regret.
    The closure of some sugar estates has also impacted the scheme. There are private enterprises that must make contributions but many do not. The management of the scheme is reluctant to pursue the legal option but one thing is clear, business is not friendly society.

    Source: – commentary by Adam Harris

  • Cyril Persaud  On October 3, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    Please elaborate what is a 10th rate citizen. “Ingrained racists” I left Guyana in 1968 as a sixteen year old lad (did not run away) suggestion for your next article let the world know of all the positive policies that enhanced the lives of Guyanese under the leadership of LFSB. thanks

    • Trevor  On October 5, 2018 at 9:34 pm

      10th rate citizen is probably worse than 2nd class citizens, might be an exaggeration though racism is worse than before, and more sophisticated in attack.

      Freddy was on point de odda day how the Canadian government went aboard with their aggressive diplomatic tactics to release teen girls who were charged with accessory to murder in Guyana.

      It seems that the Liberals in Canada are on some form of neo-feminist crusade giving women immunity when they commit crimes abroad. This defeats international and sovereign law.

      The dangerous precedent that the Canadian government dem set is that a Canadian woman can travel to a foreign country, commit heinous crimes like murder and child rape, and then get bailed out and return to Canada as if nothing happened. Where are the #metoo and Sherlina Nageer SASOD-OMY crusaders to protect the rights of innocent men?

      Only in countries like Canada and USA would teen girls get away with murder by claiming that their victim was a child molester, pedophile, etc. Mud slinging I’ve heard that it’s terrible in Canada; a woman can accuse a man of sex crimes, and the man is automatically arrested without enough reasonable cause or evidence.

  • walter  On October 3, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    Funny how this site touches me, brings good memories GTI, bad memories riots in WISMAR. I was one of the first students to successfully complete the ONC at the GTI, we were supposed to go on to “Jagan’s University” to write HNC, GTI brought in the brightest Science seniors from St. Stanislaus and Queens College, not a single one had any intention of going to a local University, I was poor and grateful and good to go. Off topic Only one of the top students completed,most went 90+ Math and Science, Mechanical Drafting failed.
    I was proud that the country was planning to have the University and never had any doubt it can become very useful as the country progressed. I was right.

    • Trevor  On October 5, 2018 at 9:38 pm

      When I attended UG for the years 2009-2013 many of the washrooms were literally facilities that one would see in horror movies, and staff lose paperwork steady and the online portals rarely work.

      The only nice ting that went at UG was a secret room called the “Temple” where we would do the stuff that lovers do, but I’ve heard that now women rights’ advocates have been scaring women on campus and they closed down the stairway “for safety reasons”.

      It’s amazing how time and neglect can depreciate the reputation and standing of a university.

  • walter  On October 6, 2018 at 10:21 am

    Sad to hear that………….

    • Trevor  On October 6, 2018 at 11:24 am

      UG was only good for the parties and parties on Friday afternoons. I’ve heard that UG is now trying to connect with International universities so that our degrees get recognised in countries overseas.

  • dhanpaul narine  On October 7, 2018 at 2:38 am

    Trevor, I am a product of UG (1972 to 1976). I gave the Commencement Speech at UG last year. First, please allow me to congratulate you for sticking it out at UG. You showed great determination in a challenging environment, to put it mildly. As you well know, UG was allowed to deteriorate by successive governments. How can you have a world-class university when the toilets don’t flush? And that is only part of the problem.
    There is the question of morale, salaries, expansion of the physical facilities, storage of records etc. What I do know is that the current VC, Prof. Ivelaw Griffith is working hard ‘to make UG great again.’ He has been there for about 2 years and the achievements are many. The Medical School has regained its accreditation, more buildings are being constructed, and donors are willing to put money in the Renaissance effort. The VC has started the Turkeyen and Tain Lecture series, and UG has honored past intellectual giants.
    It is going to take time after years of neglect. Hopefully, you can join the team and help as well.

    • Trevor  On October 8, 2018 at 12:57 am

      While I trust Hon. Granger, I don’t trust the AFC because when my friends went to their celebration rallies to ask for employment, they were treated very poorly and asked to leave.

Leave a Reply to walter Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: