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Under Scrutiny:For degreeís sake?

2/3/2014

By Stephen Alleyne

Around the year 2007, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, pro-vice chancellor and principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus (UWI), proclaimed that one of his goals was to have a university graduate in each household in Barbados by the year 2020. The rationale behind Sir Hilaryís dream is that there isnít a more effective way of lifting a family out of poverty than when a member of the household became a graduate of a tertiary level institution. Initially it came across as though the professor meant a graduate of the UWI, but recently he has clarified his position by stating that he meant a graduate of either the UWI, the Barbados Community College (BCC), the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic or the Barbados Institute of Management and Productivity (BIMAP).

Of course, while the idea has generally been welcome, it has received its fair share of criticism. For example, the Right Honourable Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, as Attorney General in the previous term of the Democratic Labour Party government, was concerned that the UWI risked watering down the quality of education it offered if it engaged in such a major expansion. Admitting that an expansion of that magnitude without a simultaneous focus on the quality issues would be disastrous, Sir Hilaryís answer to Stuartís concern was that the Cave Hill Campus had established a Quality Assurance Unit that was to be headed by a quality assurance expert whom he had identified as Eduardo Ali.

The late Prime Minister David Thompson, too, had raised concern about the economyís ability to absorb the number of graduates the UWI was hoping to produce. Sir Hilaryís counter in an exclusive interview with this newspaper on October 23, 2009 was that no country could sustain its development unless a large proportion of its citizens have had highly formed and informed knowledge constructs through university education. Hence the one-graduate-per-household concept was his attempt to bring the resources of the country to bear so as to uplift it citizens.

While Iíve seen the evolution of which Sir Hilary speaks in my own family and many others in Barbados, and I applaud Sir Hilary for the implementation of the programme, I remain sympathetic to the concerns raised by Prime Minister Stuart, for the following reason.

Quality, in terms of a university education, is more about the ability of the institution to focus and equip its students to better respond to the social, cultural, political and economic needs of the country at particular periods of time in the countryís development. Simply put, it is of no benefit to the country to have students enroll in a programme at Cave Hill to acquire a degree for the sake of acquiring a degree; the UWI must be cognizant of the needs of the country at this juncture in its development, and churn out students to satisfy those needs.

Whatís the sense of encouraging students who have no desire to become historians or teachers of history to enroll in a history programme?

In the United States of America a recent Gallup study has shown that four out of 10 college students wind up in jobs that donít require a college degree. The consequence of this is that students and families that have to foot the education bill have started to reject that unsustainable arrangement, and colleges and universities are beginning to feel the impact.

Right now in Barbados we have slews of people in the public and private sectors in jobs situations that can be performed by people who have had a basic education.

What we need now in Barbados is more skilled people. I am therefore of the view that many of the students who opt to go to UWI to have a degree for the sake of having a degree could better serve themselves and this country by enrolling in an appropriate programme with the Polytechnic or the BCC. If our resources are channelled in this direction, I guarantee that we would see a significant increase in self-employed persons (or entrepreneurs, to use the modern clichť). In addition, even if a percentage of the graduates out of these institutions donít establish themselves here, they would have been well equipped to take jobs in places like Canada, which is worried about the increasing age of its population. After all, this is just another way of exporting the best resource we have Ė our people.

(Stephen Alleyne is an attorney-at-law and former member of the Royal Barbados Police Force. Email: swalleyne@hotmail.com)

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