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Carolyn Cooper and the UWI cartel

Published:Tuesday | April 28, 2015 | 4:00 AMColin Gyles

I read with dismay a very unfortunate reference to the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), in last Sunday's Gleaner (April 26, 2015) by the eminent UWI Professor, Carolyn Cooper.

Professor Cooper said:"Instead of specialising in professional vocational education, polytechnics began to duplicate the offerings of traditional universities. I suppose it's similar to what the University of Technology has been doing in recent years: replicating practically all the professional programmes offered by the University of the West Indies. Incidentally, UTech hasn't even applied for accreditation of its dental programme! And the first graduates are about to be let loose on an unsuspecting world."

I consider the statement unfortunate because it gives an inaccurate picture of the value and credibility of the work that UTech, and CAST, its precursor, have been providing since 1958.

Let me make it clear that although most of my professional life has been spent at UTech, I am a graduate of the University of the West Indies, and I have no intention of denigrating my alma mater. We cannot become so fiercely competitive that we tear each other apart and undermine the collective strength that we could muster in order to bolster our own collective survival and competitiveness in the wider world.

capacity to deliver quality education

It should be evident that any criticism of UTech's capacity to deliver quality education is a criticism of the institutions from which those experts got their training. That includes UWI and the many other reputable institutions from developed countries such as Germany, Russia, United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others - the likes of Brunel, Rutgers, McGill, Georgia Institute of Technology, and so many others from which UTech experts have got PhDs and other terminal-degree qualifications.

UTech's dental programme, for example, is recognised by the Dental Council of Jamaica, the responsible body that licenses dentists to practise in Jamaica. Further, UTech's dental programme is recognised by the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA), which assesses and approves dentists to practise in the United States and Canada. The CDCA is described as being like the gold standard for dental competency assessment.

It is of note that UTech's College of Oral Health Sciences became the first institution outside of North America to be approved by the CDCA. The current final-year cohort of students from UTech's dentistry programme will be sitting the CDCA examinations in less than a month.

It therefore gives a completely false impression of the quality of the cohort of students who will shortly graduate from the programme as fully trained and qualified dentists for them to be described as "about to be let loose on an unsuspecting world".

It is significant that UWI only got institutional accreditation from the UCJ under two years ago. It would be quite unreasonable for persons to assume that there was no value to any UWI degree all those years prior to that.

The impression being given that UTech is some kind of polytechnic that simply tries to duplicate the offerings of traditional universities such as UWI is not true.

UTech's law programme

The main example that detractors cite is UTech's law programme. The records will show that UTech initiated the law programme at a time when Jamaicans either had to go overseas (often to Cave Hill in Barbados) or pay foreign exchange to do the programme offered by the University of London. UTech simply responded to a local need for a Law Faculty in Jamaica. UTech utilised some of the best local experts, some of them Queen's Counsels, including a former director of public prosecutions, a former president of the Senate, a former registrar of titles, and also a number of eminent judges.

Likewise, when UTech initiated its dental programme at the time when the former Dental Auxiliary School was transferred to UTech, there was no other dental programme being offered in Jamaica. Prior to UTech's initiative, UWI was approached about starting a dental programme, and it repeatedly refused. But that position changed when UTech took it on.

This is what competition does. It causes those who are comfortable and laid-back to wake up. Suddenly, UWI, Mona, has now decided to offer engineering, which previously was only available in Jamaica at UTech. Should UWI be seen as merely duplicating? I don't think so.

So, in conclusion, I do not wish to have a fight with the eminent professor from my alma mater, but, if we regard the fact that the Parliament of Jamaica has established a national university, UTech, quite separate from the regional UWI, we should be prepared to see UTech function as a university like any other in the world.

- Professor Colin Gyles is deputy president, UTech, Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and cgyles@utech.edu.jm