Wed | Dec 7, 2016

UCJ lacks objectivity, fairness and transparency

Published:Sunday | September 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Participants at a Caribbean Area Network for Quality Assurance in Tertiary Education conference. - File

Witford Reid, Contributor

I read an article that appeared in the Sunday Gleaner on August 31, 2014, written by Dr Yvonnette Marshall, the executive director of the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ). I felt compelled to respond because the article was intellectually and morally dishonest.

As a matter of fact, this could have been easily written by someone from the public relations department at the University of the West Indies (UWI). Dr Marshall's obvious demonstration of bias in support of UWI is contrary to the legacy of trust, impartiality and objectivity that her predecessor, Dr Etley London, worked hard to engender among the local institutions during her tenure.

In fact, the role of the UCJ is not to elevate any particular institution as the standard by which the others should be judged, but rather to ensure that all tertiary institutions that voluntarily subject themselves to the set of criteria established by the accrediting agency meet those standards.

In the article, UWI was presented as the poster child for the accreditation of tertiary institutions in Jamaica. There is no question that UWI is a highly respected institution that has made significant contribution to the Caribbean and the global community. But it does not have a monopoly on knowledge, best practices in the field of higher education, or on the skills and attributes university students need to possess for the 21stCentury.

HISTORY

It seems obvious to me that Dr Marshall is not aware of the history behind the commission of the UCJ or she simply chose to ignore the fact. The UCJ came into existence in 1987 by an Act of Parliament, at a time when UWI and CAST now (University of Technology) enjoyed widespread recognition by Government and the private sector as the only institutions that offered legitimate academic programmes at the tertiary level.

During this time, there was blatant discrimination against West Indies College graduates. There was absolutely no statutory body responsible for the accreditation of tertiary institutions. Instead, it was the leadership at other institutions such as West Indies College that lobbied the Government for the establishment of an impartial body, resulting in the formation of the UCJ.

The idea of accreditation was a new phenomenon in the lexicon of the Jamaican people. The widely held view at the time was that if the institution is owned by the Government, then its academic programmes must be excellent.

That general perspective on the part of the public, coupled with an attitude of intellectual arrogance on the campus of UWI, led to the misguided decision by its administration to reject overtures for it to become a member of the UCJ.

In fact, for over 20 years, the UWI has steadfastly rejected the notion to have its academic programmes subject to the rigorous scrutiny of the UCJ because its administration did not consider it necessary, nor did it deem the UCJ appropriately fit to review the university's programmes and internal processes. Therefore, the question is worth asking, why after 27 seven years is UWI suddenly given institutional accreditation?

In 1992, Northern Caribbean University (NCU) was the first institution to obtain accreditation from the UCJ for two of its science degrees. During the ensuing years, the University of Technology (UTech) came on board, and as they say, the rest is history.

For eight to 10 years, NCU was the only tertiary institution with accredited degrees from the UCJ. UTech started after it received university status. First, the process was for institutions to submit programmes for accreditation. There would have to be graduates from these programmes for the UCJ to interview before approval is given.

For years, NCU sought institutional accreditation only to be told that kind of instrument was not yet available at the UCJ. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, the instrument was developed and implemented to grant institutional accreditation to UWI.

This kind of machination on the part of the UCJ is likely to erode the trust, confidence and integrity that nation builders such as Dr Ethley London worked hard to build. It would be disastrous if the partnering institutions allow the new leadership of the UCJ to deconstruct its reputation.

This writer has no problem if the University of the West Indies subjected itself to all the requirements for institutional accreditation and met the criteria. Which would involve scrutiny by a team of reviewers, including representatives from some, if not all, of the institutions that comprise the University Council. The institution with the most experience on accreditation with the UCJ is NCU, and it was not invited. No matter what UWI thinks of itself, it cannot accredit itself! This feat was done in secrecy and no one was invited from NCU to be a part of the assessment committee.

The UCJ must be blamed for the current chaos surrounding the accreditation of degrees across some institutions. If the objective is to make UWI the standard, then you are going to see a continuation of this problem. The education quality of a nation's labour force is best achieved through diversity of institutions and programmes.

One type of educational institution will not ensure the level of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that the educated class needs to lift the country out of its current malaise. Jamaica needs UWI, NCU, UTech, UCC, Mico and any other institution that is willing to subject itself to the rigours of a review process that is conducted by accrediting agencies that are objective, transparent and independent. I am afraid the current leadership of the UCJ is charting a path that has no moral compass.

Witford Reid, MD, is a Board-certified anesthesiologist in Florida.