Mon | Apr 22, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | UTech the poor cousins

Published:Monday | September 17, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Justice and equity demand three immediate changes in the Government's relations with the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech). And I accept responsibility for these not being settled during the last administration.

The first is the balancing of salaries supported by public funds. Although I hold the University of the West Indies (UWI) in first place among the nation's tertiary institutions, it is unfair that academic staff of comparable qualifications and similar responsibilities at the national university are paid a fraction of what their UWI counterparts receive.

The same is true for lecturers at those teachers' colleges that are more and more being articulated as colleges of the regional university and which are expected to deliver courses at globally high standards. Stop treating them as poor cousins!

Recalibrate the education budget, cut out the waste of excessive leave costs, obtuse bureaucracy and ineffectual schools, and find the money to give justice to these workers. Jamaica is going nowhere fast if we cannot truthfully present ourselves as a highly trained and sensitively socialised nation.

Next, there is the no longer explicable imbalance between the annual budget subvention given to the two Papine-based institutions. Able to serve roughly equivalent student populations, the UWI, in recent years, has been getting at least four times the grant to UTech. This makes no sense if we expect equal quality outputs from both institutions.

The UWI needs what it gets, which is less than what was promised a long time ago. It is in everyone's interest that the UWI continues to be supported, but that assistance ought to fund research and development for national priorities and for training related to projected workforce needs, always to include a broad base of liberal studies.

 

Same mandate

 

But since UTech has the same mandate, from the next Supplementary Estimates must be accorded the same consideration and accountability. If we were setting up either university from scratch, it would have been wise, given limited resources, to have crafted Mona as our Harvard and UTech as our MIT. But events have overtaken that ideal and we must live with the reality that there is considerable duplication between both campuses.

The best we can do now is to fund both fairly, take advantage of the increased access to both, require close collaboration between the two so as to maximise the prudent spend of taxpayers' dollars and demand high standards of excellence - not just the mediocrity of volume pass-through - from the two.

Third, there is no justification for even one day's further delay in permitting the establishment of the equivalent of the Norman Manley Law School at UTech. Although it may be argued that there is an oversupply of lawyers, the fact is that there is a thriving law school at UTech, which is well subscribed and whose graduates ought not to have to scramble for the few spare spaces at Norman Manley not taken by UWI graduates.

It is beyond argument that the current president of UTech, Stephen Vasciannie, is capable of organising and ensuring competent professional training just as he helped do at Mona. He and his colleagues ought to prepare and present a draft of the required legislative changes to Parliament for passage with gun court speed.

In subsequent articles, it will be necessary to discuss fully the ways in which we can double the output of tertiary training facilities of high calibre before 2030. There has to be acceptance that it will not be possible for the State to completely fund this vital process and that public resources must be used to enable the economically weakest matriculants first.

Can the public be confident that our HEART contributions are being spent to best effect? Personal savings for higher education must be incentivised, as must the expansion of work-study options.

Getting a loan for higher education from the financial institutions who are trustees of our money, not theirs, must become as easy as a car loan is now. Without this and similar or alternative measures, Jamaica, as a whole, will continue to be the poor cousin of the world with low paying jobs and anemic growth.

These are the topics which should be foremost in public conversation.

- Ronald Thwaites is opposition spokesman on education and training and member of parliament for Kingston Central. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.