Why we must push tertiary level education

Sunday, July 07, 2019

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In today's globalised world and even more so in the immediate future, the ability of a country to achieve high rates of sustained economic growth depends on the availability of high-quality human resources.

That quality of a country's stock of human resources determines its capacity to create and use knowledge, which is increasing and changing rapidly. The key to a knowledge-based society and economy is higher education ie, tertiary level education.

Tertiary level education is necessary to utilise new technologies such as nano-technology, digitisation, artificial intelligence, robotisation, smart machines and drones, which are rapidly changing economic and social life in profound ways.

Accelerating technologies are combining and reinforcing each other in ways which compound and deepen their impact on resource usage and resource creation. The new developments in information processing and telecommunications propel globalisation by reducing the costs resulting from distance, the importance of location, and the advantages of large size.

The expansion in the use of artificial intelligence will alter fundamentally the conduct of all economic activities and its applications are projected to grow exponentially.

The Caribbean is destined to fall behind in global economic development because the governments of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) are under-investing in higher education. The percentage of the 18-30 year old cohort that gets a university level education is low by comparison to other developing countries.

Unfortunately, governments in the region get more bang for the buck in political support by making primary and high school level education the priority. The outcome is short-sighted under investment in tertiary level education. This is a self-inflicted impediment.

The debate about how much to spend on university level education is most acute in Jamaica because despite difficult fiscal situations, governments in the rest of the Caricom region have, with difficulty, prevented the erosion of their educational system, whereas Jamaica is spending less in real terms.

The governments of Caricom must invest more in real terms in tertiary level education to achieve two goals: First, to increase the number of young people who have access to a university education.

Second, in increasing the numbers going to university, standards must not be sacrificed under pressure for “certification”. In this regard The University of the West Indies (UWI), which is rated in the top five per cent of the world's 24,000 universities, must be allowed to maintain its world-class status and not be pressured to keep increasing the size of its student body.

The responsibility for more university level education is the responsibility of all the universities in the region, and not the sole responsibility of The UWI.

It is time for a national and regional discussion on the financing of university level education, especially since the cost of adequate investment in tertiary education seems to be beyond the resources of the governments at this difficult economic time.

Furthermore, it is time for some creative financial ideas and creative thinking about the delivery of higher education. More funding for research is desperately needed to allow the universities to service the public and private sector with new knowledge.

Let's get on with it.


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