EDITORIAL: University not only solution
READING THE COMMENTS of Professor Sir Hilary Beckles on the economic challenges facing the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) suggests it faces imminent closure. However, his arguments do not address the new normal facing the entire country – changing times.
Without a doubt this country needs university graduates and those of professional schools to ensure it has an advantage in a fiercely competitive global market. It also needs those with a range of highly specialised technical and vocation skills. Our innovators and entrepreneurs will come from varied backgrounds.
In the past decade there has been a surge in students at Cave Hill driven by the benefits of a university education. This thrust came alongside new academic programmes, fancy facilities, expanded halls of residences and other amenities that have not contributed directly to actual learning.
The cost of education rose during the same period and it fell to the taxpayers to bear the cost. The impressive facility also took on a debt load.
The discussion has been about building a strong knowledge economy. But given what has been happening at our secondary school level, we must also have an equally strong and capable workforce to help drive the economy.
The reality is that as we move forward in a manner that is responsive to our national development needs, a more equitable approach to funding is needed at all levels, including special needs and the development of technical and vocational skills. It must be a situation of equal opportunity for all of our students.
Given the poor academic performance of a large number of students at the secondary level, there is a clear need to have a broader approach which not only meets our skills deficit, but also creates the potential for the country to export skilled labour.
Our solution must be about more than one for the Cave Hill Campus and the UWI in general. We need to understand and appreciate the role played by the Barbados Community College, BIMAP, the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic and the Barbados Vocational Training Board. The current redundancies in both the public and private sector demand the retooling of a large number of people, and for most of them a university education will not be the solution.
The real challenge must not only be about making university education more affordable for more people, but making access to post-secondary education more available and meaningful.
Sir Hilary and his team must reposition the Cave Hill Campus for a rapidly changing environment – transforming how it does business. The status quo no longer stands. Neither must there be a sense of entitlement.