Sun | May 28, 2017

Funny degrees no joke

Published:Sunday | August 31, 2014 | 8:00 AM
Carolyn Cooper

Carolyn Cooper

Last Sunday's column, 'University fi stone dog - seet deh!', has stirred up quite an ants' nest. And Baygon can't deal with it. Incidentally, we know that nuff ants inna ants' nest. So, logically, it can't be singular. Ant nest? In English yes, but not in Jamaican. I spent quite a bit of time last week following the trail of ants.

I got a distressing email from a graduate of the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI): "Your article ... has renewed my concern and worry as I might just be in that same boat rowing to nowhere!" The email was published in The Gleaner on Tuesday, August 26 as a letter to editor: 'Accreditation limbo at CMI'.

Proverbial wisdom warns, "Wat is joke to you is death to me." And is true. I got another email from someone who is clearly not rowing in the same boat with that concerned and worried CMI graduate: "Prof, this article is great. I never laugh so before while reading an article ... Blessings." We certainly know how to tek bad tings mek joke. But this business of bogus degrees is no laughing matter.

NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT?

I contacted both the CMI and the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ) on behalf of the graduate. I discovered, much to our relief, that the degree programme in question, the BSc in logistics and supply-chain management, has, in fact, been submitted to the UCJ for review. If the programme is accredited, the graduate will have nothing to worry about.

The UCJ will issue a statement of equivalence indicating that the old degree is up to the standard of the new.

Although the CMI graduate now seems to be rowing to somewhere, it may not be smooth sailing after all. The UCJ has confirmed that if any unaccredited programme turns out to be substandard, the institution issuing the degree may implement measures to have the graduate complete the new requirements for the accredited programme and provide the relevant certification.

I don't like the sound of that 'may'. It ought to be 'must'. What if the institution fails to do the right thing? Who is going to ensure accountability? Graduates of the unaccredited programme would have been conned into buying a worthless piece of paper. I suppose they could put their case to the Fair Trading Commission. Or take legal action to recover their fees and seek compensation for lost time and opportunities. But at what cost? And at whose expense?

WATCHDOG WITH TEETH

The tertiary education sector simply must be regulated. But that's not the job of the UCJ. Regulation and accreditation are distinct functions. The UCJ is an external quality-assurance agency. As stated on its website, "The mission of the University Council of Jamaica is to increase the availability of tertiary-level training in Jamaica through a robust quality-assurance system that ensures excellence, transparency, integrity and adherence to standards."

Quality assurance is all very well and good. But what we desperately need is a regulatory watchdog with teeth. The Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission (J-TEC) is supposed to be that bad dog. But it is muzzled. Last week, I asked the commissioner/CEO, Mrs Maxine Henry-Wilson, what was being done to protect naive students who don't seem to know they must make sure their degree programme is accredited. Before they register!

In 2006, as minister of education, Mrs Henry-Wilson initiated a strategic plan for regulating tertiary education. The very first strategic objective was the establishment of a regulatory body for the sector. But the wheels of government bureaucracy turn rather slowly. It was not until 2011, under the leadership of Andrew Holness, that some movement was made towards setting the legislative framework for the regulatory body.

THE IMF'S BIG STICK

The Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission was finally established in 2012. Within nine months of the appointment of Mrs Henry-Wilson, the legislative framework was completed. It has languished for two years in the office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel. It's stuck in a long line of other financial proposals. And with the IMF's big stick over our heads, only God knows if funding will be approved.

As things stand, dog and all can set up university. There is no legislation to prevent it. So-called universities don't even have to be registered with the University Council. It's a free-for-all. If J-TEC gets its legal mandate, all this will change. Every tertiary institution will have to be registered. And a quality audit will be done to determine the appropriate name for the enterprise.

At present, the UCJ has a policy of assessing degree programmes to determine their readiness for delivery. But in carrying out its core accreditation function, the UCJ can evaluate only programmes that have completed a full cycle and have produced the first set of graduates. Accreditation is based on evidence, not on plans or intentions.

If we don't clean up the tertiary education sector, the quality of all degrees across the board will be compromised. It won't be just the fly-by-night operators that will have to close shop. All universities will be in trouble if Jamaica becomes known as a market for bogus degrees. Soon, none of our local degrees will be recognised internationally. And dog a go nyam wi supper.

Carolyn Cooper is a teacher of English language and literature. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.