Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Carolyn Cooper | UTech comes clean

Published:Sunday | November 6, 2016 | 11:00 AM

Wonders never cease! Professor Colin Gyles, acting president of the University of Technology, has publicly admitted that a lot of academic programmes being offered by the institution are not accredited. At least "60 courses of study," according to an article by Andre Poyser published in The Gleaner on Friday, November 4! Confession is good for the soul. And disclosure of unpleasant truths is good for the well-being of public institutions.

UTech has come off its high horse and is now frontally addressing the long-outstanding issue of non-accreditation of so many of its course offerings. Last year, I was much abused because of a column I wrote, 'University fi stone dog in the UK?', which was published on April 26. This was the offending paragraph which drew the wrath of UTech administrators, alumni, current students and the wider public:

"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."

 

UNWELCOME MESSAGE

 

As the bearer of bad news, I was immediately attacked. It didn't matter that the unwelcome message was the truth. The first volley came from a very big gun, the said same Professor Gyles. His evasive response to my column was published in The Gleaner on Tuesday, April 28 with the inflammatory headline 'Carolyn Cooper and the UWI cartel'. I suspect that the headline wasn't Professor Gyles', but the work of a clever editor, fanning the flames of contention.

The clear implication of that hostile headline was that the University of the West Indies, as a supplier of educational services, was restricting competition and attempting to push UTech out of the market. And since I worked at UWI, I must be part of the grand conspiracy. I couldn't possibly be a concerned citizen who wanted to ensure that the public knew the state of affairs at UTech and the qualifications of the dentists they might encounter.

Here's the essence of Professor Gyles' roundabout response to my column: "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." Of course, I was not questioning the "value and credibility" of all the academic programmes offered by UTech and CAST. Only the unaccredited dental programme. And if you read between the lines of Professor Gyles' response, you would see that he didn't actually refute my statement that the dental programme was not appropriately accredited.

 

THE PLAIN TRUTH

 

In a follow-up column, 'UTech deputy president beating his gums', published in The Gleaner on May 3, I stated the plain truth: "What Professor Gyles fails to admit is that UTech is not accredited by The Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP). As stated on its website, CAAM-HP 'is the legally constituted body established in 2003 under the aegis of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), empowered to determine and prescribe standards and to accredit programmes of medical, dental, veterinary and other health professions education on behalf of the contracting parties in CARICOM."

Instead of applying for regional accreditation of its dental programme by the legally constituted body, UTech kept on insisting that 'recognition' by a number of local and international bodies was a viable alternative. The dean of the College of Oral Sciences at UTech, Dr Irving McKenzie, wrote an article published in The Gleaner on May 4 with the upbeat headline, 'Jamaica produces world-class dentists'. He asserted that, "Contrary to views expressed recently in the media, the University of Technology (UTech) has made the strategic decision to ensure that graduates of the College of Oral Health Sciences are qualified according to world-class standards."

 

COLONIAL MENTALITY

 

As it turns out, these 'world-class standards' were all set by US institutions. The clear implication was that these standards were far superior to those of the CARICOM accrediting body. It's the same old colonial mentality. Whatever comes from 'foreign' must be superior to the home-grown product. I don't know if the dental programme is one of those for which UTech is now seeking accreditation. I certainly hope so. Jamaica needs far more dentists than we currently have. But they all need to be graduates of an accredited institution.

A few months ago, I went to a house party and met a young woman who seemed rather hostile. I didn't think I had met her before so I couldn't understand her attitude. I decided to try to figure out what the problem was. It turned out that she was a student in the UTech dental programme. She had read my columns and concluded that I was undermining the programme and devaluing the degree she was about to get.

Yu see mi dying trial! Instead of being grateful that I was exposing the issue of non-accreditation, this student was angry with me. But her anger was misplaced. It should have been directed at the UTech administrators who have been knowingly offering an unaccredited programme. Jackass seh di world no level.

• Carolyn Cooper, PhD is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.