THE recent formal installation of its new president, Dr Trevor Gardner, reminds us of the wonderful contribution Northern Caribbean University (NCU) is making to Jamaica and more particularly to the south central town of Mandeville, the parish of Manchester and the nation’s central region.
A century ago — give or take a few years — when the initial training school was first started by the Seventh-day Adventists few would have envisioned its transformation to its pivotal place in modern Jamaica.
Quietly, without fanfare, the institution evolved through the decades athletically embracing and adjusting to changing realities to achieve university status in 1999.
If anything NCU’s growth since then has been even more admirable. The Planning Institute of Jamaica’s Economic & Social Survey tells us that at the end of 2011, NCU offered 87 undergraduate programmes and 15 at the graduate level.
Undergraduate programmes started in 2011 included Bachelor of Music in Performance, Bachelor of Science in Music, and Bachelor of Science in Industrial and Organisational Counselling; Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science; Associate of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Associate of Science in Electrical Engineering and Associate of Science in Computer Systems Engineering.
At the graduate level, programmes introduced last year include PhDs in Counselling Psychology, Biology, Public Health, Master of Science in Information Systems, Master of Science in Environmental Science and Post-Graduiate Diploma in Education.
Global respect and admiration have come to NCU for work in new technologies — not least because of the extraordinary achievement of students from its Department of Computer and Information Sciences in winning at the world finals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition in 2010.
New technologies apart, the university is playing a lead role in research with an eye to the traditional — farming, for example.
Enrolment at NCU is now said to be over 6,000 students and the university employs 1,700 people. Some reports suggest that as much as $6 billion is pumped into the Jamaican economy each year as a direct result of NCU’s activities.
Physical infrastructure has grown to match academic expansion. The 200-acre main campus, two miles south of the Mandeville town centre, is rapidly filling out and there are also extension campuses in Kingston, Montego Bay and Runaway Bay.
Aware of its social responsibilities to the wider community, NCU’s outreach programmes have been exemplary — its Community Counselling and Restorative Justice programme being among the more acclaimed.
Dr Gardner takes control of the university at a time of growing expectation that the institution will play a lead role as Mandeville and Manchester strive to build knowledgebased industries in the post-bauxite era.
Dr Gardner’s own vision of Mandeville as Jamaica’s silicon mountain is encouraging. We are equally buoyed by his promise of even more rapid growth and change for NCU over the next few years.
Without growth, as we should all be aware, there is inevitable stagnation and, ultimately, regression.
We wish Dr Gardner and the NCU well.