Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Nigel Harris says the institution, through CARICOM, will be seeking to take action to create a regional accreditation body, to ensure quality in the tertiary education sector.
Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Professor Nigel Harris addresses a press conference on the third day (July 6) of the 31st Meeting of the Conference of Heads of CARICOM, being held at the Rose Hall Hotel in Montego Bay from July 4-7. He updated members of the regional media on discussions held with Heads on matters relating to: rationalisation of the tertiary education sector in the Caribbean; The UWI’s efforts to assist Haiti; and new programmes that the institution will be offering.
“We are very concerned that a number of institutions are providing programmes that really don’t have the sort of quality that one might anticipate for institutions of this time. We have been working on this for years, but we believe that rubber should hit the road, and that this should actually happen,” he told journalists at a press conference on the third day (July 6) of the 31st Meeting of the Conference of Heads of CARICOM, being held at the Rose Hall Hotel in Montego Bay, in St. James, from July 4 to 7.
According to Professor Harris, there needs to be a rationalisation of the tertiary education sector in the region, to better align their offerings with the human resource needs of nationals. “We are attentive to the fact that there has been a large proliferation of tertiary education institutions in the Caribbean.(by) institutions that are regional, but there has also been a large increase in offshore institutions.we need to have better articulation between the tertiary institutions so that students entering one can move seamlessly through the system (with) credits being carried from one institution to the next,” he explained.
Professor Harris said this would require establishment of some working arrangements between the universities, by which the courses offered are officially recognised.
He however emphasised that the push to create a regional accreditation body was not an attempt to squeeze out offshore institutions, as the UWI could not satisfy the demand for tertiary education in the region.
“We have 43,000 students.we have doubled in the last five years, so what we want to insist on is that our governments, and our private sectors support programmes that are not (just) for profit, but are programmes that are genuinely going to meet the broad human resource development needs of our countries; that are going to contribute to knowledge development, related to our growth and development needs,” he explained.
He said the UWI also wanted to promote the idea that universities were not only about providing undergraduate degrees, but also post-graduate and research programmes. “All of which can add value to regional development, and to that end, as governments look to support tertiary education, we argue that there should be support for post-graduate programmes, research – for research work period, knowledge development and outreach efforts,” he stated.
Professor Harris noted that while there is nothing wrong with profit, “the point is that the needs of societies of their indigenous societies are to provide values much broader than just first degrees, and in fact much broader areas within the context of human resource development, and knowledge development.”
Additionally, the Vice Chancellor said there was the need for students who were not able to attend a campus, such as those in rural areas, and who have full time jobs, to be able to access tertiary education. “In this context, we want to push the idea of the open campus of the University of the West Indies,” he remarked while noting efforts to partner with the Caribbean Knowledge Learning Network, to put in place systems to allow university programmes to be delivered in a less costly manner to such students.
The press conference followed discussions between the Vice Chancellor and CARICOM Heads, in which other issues such as the UWI’s environmental initiatives, and its strategic plans going forward were put on the table.