Let's get serious about tertiary education

Sunday, November 03, 2019

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The quality of human resources — the critical element in a knowledge-driven global economy — determines productivity, international competitiveness, and capacity to transform ideas and creativity into sophisticated goods and services using modern technology.

That quality of human resources is itself determined by the amount and quality of higher education. It is no longer good enough to have a literate population or a cohort of youth who have had several years of secondary education.

Let's face it, Jamaica does not have enough people trained at the tertiary level of education. The problem is complicated by the migration of many of those so trained, often at the expense of taxpayers, falling victim to the lure of the almighty United States.

The answer, of course, is to train as many people as we can and try to retain as many as possible. Unfortunately, successive governments, despite their rhetoric, have underinvested in tertiary education, thus retarding both national development and individual social mobility.

Today, because of the accumulated neglect, there is a crisis of tertiary education. The evidence is everywhere — it is an indictment of neglect.

It is noteworthy that the Mona Campus of The University of the West Indies (UWI), which is now ranked in the top three per cent of the 24,000 universities in the world by Times Higher Education, receives only 35 per cent of its budget from the Government of Jamaica.

This forces the UWI to increase student fees regularly and to turn away highly qualified, straight 'A' students from its medical faculty. It is instructive that the UWI's graduation ceremonies this weekend are held in a tent after 70 years of service to the Caribbean!

At the University of Technology, Jamaica, the academic staff has been on strike for outstanding back pay. Meanwhile, students are missing valuable classroom time. This is no way to treat people who have their doctorates and are dedicated teachers. So if there are resignations and unfilled posts, it would be no surprise.

The Caribbean Maritime University is the classic case of mismanagement at the institutional level, and no meaningful remedial action has been taken to salvage the disappearing reputation of this vital training entity.

There has been public protest over the deplorable living conditions at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), notably inadequate and inconsistent water supply, irregular garbage collection, poor meal preparation, the lack of a nurse on campus, and poor sanitation. How do we expect students to learn in these intolerable conditions?

No wonder so many of the people working in the judicial system are not trained in law; that there are jobs in the management of the business process outsourcing sector which cannot be filled; or that so many teachers choose to migrate.

The current Government alone cannot be blamed for the crisis which has built up over time, and to give some credit, Mr Karl Samuda, the interim minister of education, seems genuinely concerned and seized of the urgency.

However, we expect the Government to lead decisively in a major assault on the problem of inadequate tertiary education.


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