Tuesday, April 23, 2024

EDITORIAL: Party political poppycock

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EVER SO OFTEN someone of consequence floats an idea or proposal that makes so much sense it serves to reinforce just how much time we waste in the Caribbean because of approaches that are too often based on the folly so easily associated with party political politics.

Almost two weeks ago the DAILY NATION published a story quoting vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles, as disclosing that the UWI had proposed to the Barbados Government the transformation of the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic (SJPP) into a full-fledged college of UWI, offering degrees in technical and vocational areas.

According to that article, the Freundel Stuart Government is “studying” the proposal. We hope that they do more than study it – that they give it their seal of approval and the financial muscle to get it going. Decades of almost absolute concentration on the academic over the technical is overdue for a major shift, and Sir Hilary’s suggested approach has considerable merit.

If we are smart enough to implement it now, though, this Government will still have to live with the knowledge that it was only because of its rabidly partisan approach that it was not done almost a decade ago.

The former Owen Arthur Government, after spending more than what could be considered a reasonable amount of time talking about it, left office in 2008 with a complete blueprint for the establishment of the University College of Barbados. It was out of that master plan that current Minister of Education Ronald Jones took to Cabinet early in his tenure a paper that essentially reflected that plan.

It proposed the merger of the SJPP, Barbados Community College (BCC) and Erdiston Teachers Training College (ETTC) and explained: “The vision for this institution is a centre of excellence for the delivery of education and training programmes for a wide cross-section of learners so that they can function effectively in the context of national and global realities. It will:

i) expand access to higher education;

ii) address the pressing human resource development needs of Barbados;

iii) combat “brain drain” by expanding local programme offerings;

iv) position the institution to compete on a global market;

v) address inefficiencies with a viable and sustainable model.”

That 15-page document, dated February 19, 2008, was so comprehensive it even identified the names of the campuses. It would have seen the SJPP dropping “polytechnic” from its title and retaining the rest (Faculty of Engineering Technology); BCC becoming the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Campus (Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Health and Behavioural Sciences, Faculty of Business and Information Systems; ETTC being called the Harold Bayne Campus (Faculty of Education) and the Hospitality Institute being renamed the Enid Maxwell Campus (Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism).

At that time, when the demand for tertiary education was not nearly as acute as it is today, the framers of the UCB blueprint had projected a total intake of new students for the 2008-2009 academic year at just short of 5 000.

Clearly having not gained the support of the DLP Cabinet the UCB plan died a quiet but certain death. A decade later one of our most respected thinkers essentially tells us there is significant merit in the approach. All we can really ask ourselves now is: How far ahead would we be today if the people we elected did not always see party as trumping everything else.

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