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Big changes coming for education sector

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 10, 2018

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THE Government says it will be rebalancing the budget allocation for tertiary education, to ensure that public funding goes directly to programmes that are aligned with national objectives.

According to Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid, the aim is to increase student equity and access, and optimise accountability and transparency in the use of State funds.

“We have to look at programmes that are in the national interest as a basis for funding institutions, rather than giving [to] everybody based on their establishment or overall budget,” Reid told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

“Currently, there are Government-sponsored programmes and programmes that are all market-driven that are fully paid. So what we want to do is use our resources in such a way as to indicate to the institution that we are earmarking our funds for these particular programmes [and] you can't just use our funds and fund a programme that is obsolete, [or] a programme that is undersubscribed and you have it as Government-sponsored,” he explained.

The education minister said that funds would not be withheld from institutions, but would be directed to programmes that are in the national interest. He noted that, “right now there is a potential growth in areas such as maritime logistics, business process outsourcing, aviation, [and] engineering”.

Senator Reid said the affected institutions are aware, through ongoing and stakeholder discussions.

“It would be irresponsible of Government to continue to use this approach where Government doesn't have control over what institutions do. Unfortunately, too many of our education institutions have been given that autonomy to do whatever they want to do and the Government pays the bill. We are saying that can't work. There has to be some accountability in terms of how we spend scarce public resources,” he said.

The Government is also proposing to rename the “tertiary education sector” the “higher education sector”, as part of its integrated repositioning strategy.

Central to this is long overdue legislation to govern the higher education sector. Reid pointed out that there is currently no legal framework for the “tertiary education sector”, as the Education Act makes provision only for teachers' colleges and community colleges.

“Although we have the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ) operating, there has been no higher education legislation and we need to define precisely what we mean by higher education because a lot of quasi institutions — for example, training in hospitality, or practical nursing — all of those qualify as higher education, so institutions pop up all over the place [and] there is no proper regulation in terms of registration, so we need a framework to regulate all of that,” he explained.

Reid pointed out that one of the long-standing weaknesses with the UCJ is that entities are allowed to begin offering courses before they become accredited.

“That's when the horse has gone through the gate and the public sometimes are not aware or think that the Ministry of Education would have approved them to establish and operate in the first instance. We want to liberalise higher education, but we also have a responsibility to the public to ensure that there is regulation,” the education minister stressed.

A Tertiary Education Commission was approved in 2010, but there is still no legal framework to enact its establishment. However, Reid pointed out that legislating the commission, without having an overarching higher education framework would compound the issues facing the sector.

“There are many countries that actually have a minister in charge of higher education, because it's a very fixed sector [and] it is very lucrative,” he said.

Along with the promulgation of a Higher Education Act, a Higher Education Commission is to be established, and the UCJ is to be reorganised with an advisory board to become a quality assurance entity for higher education in the country.

Senator Reid said the higher education sector will incorporate formal, non-formal and informal training in academic, technical, vocational, and professional education and training, as well as training in lifelong learning.

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