The many achievements of the University of Technology

Stephen
Vasciannie

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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Over the past year or so there have been various developments at the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica, which should be brought to public attention. The university is funded in large part by the Government of Jamaica, but the greater share of the university's income is from student fees. The university is, of course, always mindful that it must — as far as possible — satisfy both student needs and national objectives.

Teaching

One of the main ways in which we satisfy student needs and national objectives is through the fulfilment of our teaching function. The university, in the minds of many onlookers, is primarily a place for the instruction of students in practical areas of learning. In carrying out this function the university is minded to build on its reputation for producing “work-ready” graduates. On the positive side, this reputation helps UTech students to garner employment in a variety of areas shortly after graduation.

To a significant extent, this reputation for work readiness is built on the practical orientation and quality of the teaching on offer at the university's campuses in Kingston (Papine, Arthur Wint Drive, Braemar Road) and Montego Bay (Dome Street and Barnett Street). The university is committed to retaining quality teachers, and we pay considerable attention to students' assessment of teaching in carrying out our mission.

Research

But it must also be acknowledged that universities, properly so-called, live and die on the basis of research. And with this in mind UTech has sought to enhance its research output. Over the past year or so, a number of initiatives have been introduced to enhance our research agenda.

To begin with, the university has established the University of Technology, Jamaica Press, designed to provide opportunities for UTech lecturers and others to publish their manuscripts in the form of refereed books. Secondly, the university has increased the number of volumes per year of its in-house refereed journal, The Journal of Arts Science and Technology.

Thirdly, the university has provided financial incentives for staff members who publish articles in refereed journals and books. Fourthly, the university has increased the size of its Research Development Fund by 50 per cent, and has put in place mechanisms to facilitate access by staff members to that fund.

Promotions

Realising too the need to incentivise research within the university's promotion structure, we have also been in the midst of revising the criteria for promotion in a way that will enhance promotion prospects for persons who research and publish their scientific, technical and other findings.

The shift to full commitment in the area of research is a cultural change that will take time to properly come to fruition; happily, though, there are good signs of growth. I take pride in noting recent publications by staff members-in both local and international journals in a range of specialist fields including engineering and computing, hospitality management and education, among others.

Resources

Both the teaching and research functions of the university require resources and proper infrastructure if we are to endure. As to resources, the university has recently improved its technical capacity through the setting up of two new computer laboratories with more than 90 new computers.

We are also continuously making efforts to ensure that our software capabilities and online access are brought up to acceptable standards. Thus, wi-fi facilities are now fully available at our Montego Bay campuses and in the Kingston campuses at Arthur Wint Drive and Braemar Avenue. Making our way in the digital age is expensive, but the university has committed significant funding to meet this challenge.

Infrastructure

As to infrastructure, we are aware that some areas of our plant need improvement. We note with gratitude that, largely through contributions from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and matching UTech funds, the campus now has a new Shared Facilities Building — officially opened by the minister of education, Senator the Hon Ruel Reid on December 14, 2017.

This structure, with three large, state-of-the-art lecture theatres, 20 smart classrooms of varying sizes, and computer laboratories represents marked infrastructural progress for the institution.

The university's hotel, again built with CDB and matching funds, is almost ready for occupation in a new structure. And the university has opened a new pharmacy in the College of Health Sciences.

Improvements

Other improvements recently completed or just about to come on stream at the Papine Campus include:

the rejuvenation of Sculpture Park;

improvement to a number of laboratories;

enhanced lighting for security purposes;

improvements to the campus book store;

renovation of the “Drawing Room”, as a set of lecture theatres mainly for the Law Faculty; and

renovation of the University's chapel.

Mathematics

Traditionally, the university has also been mindful of its responsibilities to Jamaica and the wider Caribbean society. Thus, we take pride in the fact that UTech has the only School of Architecture in the region, and are anxious to avail our services to students and the wider community. In the course this year, Mr Adori Lewis, a final-year student in the Caribbean School of Architecture, won first place in the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation's design competition for the foyer of the Ward Theatre.

Other faculties and colleges provide services to the wider community as well. So, for example, a few months ago the Faculty of Science and Sport hosted a CAPE Mathematics Workshop for secondary school students. This workshop attracted about 400 students from across the island — proof that there is hunger and thirst for mathematical wisdom.

Proof of mathematical prowess was also on display when Glenmuir High School won the university's inaugural Mathematics Quiz Competition, beating Immaculate Conception High School in a closely contested final match. More than 20 secondary schools took part in this competition.

Fi Wi Jamaica

Another form of outreach was through the 'Fi Wi Jamaica' Project. This project, funded by the US Agency for International Development, saw UTech serving as the main point of organisation for a range of cultural, social and teaching activities.

Persons mainly from communities with special socio-economic challenges were invited to take part in various cultural exchanges and organised activities on themes such as gender-based violence and social tolerance. The project, which was under the guidance of the university's Community Service Department, came to an end in recent months.

But the Community Service Department will continue its outreach efforts and high school classes. Likewise, the Dental School at the university has sought to serve various communities, and the College of Business and Management provides CAPE instruction to students in the sixth form.

Summer internships

During the course of the current summer period, the university has also taken part in a community service programme sponsored by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ). Under this project — the PCJ Internship Programme — persons between the approximate ages of 18 and 35 who have never been to university are exposed to life in a university setting.

Over the course of three weeks each batch of approximately 250 interns has been required to reside at the university and to take part in pre-university courses involving engineering, business, hospitality management and life skills. This programme has been organised by the Faculty of Engineering and Computing.

Developments

In the course of the last year or so, the university has also been involved in various other activities, some of which foreshadow major developments for us. These include:

Accreditation from the University Council of Jamaica;

60th anniversary activities;

scholarships for students; and

the establishment of a law school.

Accreditation

The question of accreditation has, from time to time, brought the university into the news. In the course of the last year, about eight degree programmes at the university have received programme accreditation. In fact, we have received programme accreditation for every programme which has been considered by the University Council of Jamaica in the last year. This, we believe, is a mark of quality.

By the same token, the Faculty of the Built Environment takes pride in the accreditation of our architecture programme by the Commonwealth Architects Accreditation body in 2017, while the College of Business and Management received special exemptions for the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants (ACCA) Examinations, thanks to the quality of our accounting programmes. Only one other institution in the Caribbean has received the level of exemptions in the ACCA garnered by UTech.

The university has also sought accreditation not just for individual programmes, but for the institution as a whole. In late April to early May 2018, the university hosted a team of academic officials from North America and Trinidad and Tobago, with Jamaican observers, in response to our application for institutional accreditation. The result of that assessment is yet unknown.

60th Anniversary

In the meantime, the university has embarked upon a set of activities to mark our 60th anniversary. Since starting out life as the Jamaica Institute of Technology in 1958, the university served Jamaica and the region under the popular name of CAST (the College of Arts, Science and Technology), and then assumed the mantle of the University of Technology, Jamaica. Several activities are coming on stream for the 60th anniversary, and a number have already taken place.

More specifically, the university has so far hosted four 60th Anniversary Distinguished Lectures. In chronological order, these have been presented by:

H E the Hon Patrick Robinson, judge of the International Court of Justice;

Dr Horace Campbell, professor at the University of Legon, Ghana;

Ms Tracy Robinson, former President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; and

H E the Most Hon Sir Patrick Allen, governor general of Jamaica, the University's visitor.

Needless to say, these lectures have been of the highest quality; our objective is to provide lectures on a variety of topics. we anticipate lectures from, among others, the Most Hon Edward Seaga, the University's chancellor, Professor Vernon Buchanan of the Faculty of Engineering and Computing; and Professor Fitzroy Henry of the College of Health Sciences.

Partnerships

An underlying purpose of the 60th Anniversary Lecture series is to expose UTech stakeholders — especially students and staff — to flows of knowledge and information. This purpose is also achieved through invitations and partnerships with international and national entities.

So, for example, the university hosted, in March 2018, the deputy secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), H E Nestor Mendes, Permanent Secretary Hilary Alexander of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology, and other experts for a special lecture and round table discussion on Sustainable Energy. The Faculty of Law has also hosted the director of International Law of the OAS for a roundtable presentation on 'Current Legal Developments at the OAS'.

We also seek to expose the outside world to developments in Jamaica through partnerships. From many examples, I mention here that Dean Kamilah Hylton of the Faculty of Science and Sport addressed the VIII International Congress on 'Sport, People and Health' held in St Petersburg, Russia, in October 2017.

Assisting students

As noted above, the bulk of the university's funding comes from student fees. The university remains mindful that the payment of fees constitutes a major challenge for many of our students. I, for one, do not believe that there are UTech students who can afford fees but opt not to pay them; rather, I acknowledge that there are several students who ultimately fall by the wayside owing to the pressures of having to find fees while moving along with their studies.

Against this general background, the university has sought to implement measures that may assist students in their quest for tertiary education. We make every effort to keep our fees low, but believe that we need to balance our budget.

In order to help our students the university has several scholarships and bursaries, numbering approximately 140 for the academic year 2017/2018. For that year, the value of scholarships and bursaries to students was of the order of significantly more than $100 million.

In addition, last year the university provided more than 2,000 welfare grants totalling more than $23 million for items such as tuition, boarding, lunch subsidy, transportation, school equipment and text-books.

The university is grateful to the sponsors who provide assistance to our students, sometimes for many years, as they invest in Jamaica's future. I offer my personal thanks to them all.

The university also has in place an Earn and Study Programme under which students may receive employment on campus. Students, if selected, are able to earn $200 per hour for a maximum of 50 hours per fortnight. For the academic year 2017/2018, the total sum expended on the Earn and Study Programme was approximately $31 million.

Law School (Again)

Finally, a comment on the university's efforts to establish a law school is in order.

The university has had a Faculty of Law in place for approximately 10 years. Since inception it has produced several graduates with LLB (Law) degrees.

These law graduates then need to attend Norman Manley Law School in order to become fully trained attorneys-at-law.

But, in the roughly 10 years, the Norman Manley Law School has accepted well below 30 per cent of the UTech law graduates.

This means that more than 70 per cent of UTech graduates with law degrees have not been able to complete their studies. It also means that there are graduates from outside the UWI system who are also in the twilight zone of incompletion.

Now this is not because the persons have not tried to join the law school community. Many of them have taken the Norman Manley Law School Entrance Examination, but have been turned away.

The Norman Manley Law School, it seems, does not have sufficient space to accept the UTech graduates in significant numbers.

In this context, UTech has applied to the Government of Jamaica to establish a law school — the Jamaica Law School — at the national university. The minister of education has indicated his support for this effort. We have the space, the willingness and the capacity to turn UTech and other law graduates into strong attorneys-at-law.

We wish to commence in September 2018.

The Government is working on the matter.

Personal Development

Therefore, it is appropriate to emphasise that UTech is in the business of personal development. We wish to promote the personal development of students, of staff members, and of members of the wider society. As former Prime Minister Seaga has famously said, it takes cash to care. So, we seek to be prudent in the management of our resources even as we work to improve access of our students to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — the much-touted STEM.

We also seek to expose some of our students to other areas, including management, nursing, education, Liberal studies, law and so on. Jamaica needs professionals in all areas, and UTech is willing to work to provide quality education across the range of possibilities which we currently have in place.

Stephen Vasciannie is the president of the University of Technology, Jamaica. He has been Jamaica's ambassador to the United States of America, principal of the Norman Manley Law School, professor of international law at the UWI, and a member of the United Nations International Law Commission.

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