Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Testing times at NCU - University prepares for 2015 after extreme financial challenges, worrying enrolment figures, and moments when it had to re-evaluate its values

Published:Sunday | December 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM
An excited and animated Yetesha Ferguson glances at the audience before collecting her Bachelor of Science degree in management studies from Dr Trevor Gardner, president, Northern Caribbean University. - File
Dr Anthony Marshall, assistant professor of music and choral activities at the Northern Caribbean University (NCU), directs the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica and the NCU Ensemble during a performance of Nyabinghi Symphony at its spring concert series. - File
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Dr Trevor Gardner, Guest Columnist

"These were the best of times; these were the worst of times." If ever one doubted the veracity of this statement, the year 2014 would remove all uncertainties. It has held true for me personally, for us as a university and certainly as a nation.

To be head of Northern Caribbean University (NCU), a private tertiary institution, in an environment of declining economic fortunes that causes an industry-wide dwindling of student population, and thus causing devastating austerity is to have your mettle tested to your very core.

The year 2014 has been a difficult year. But it has also been a great year, because I was reminded that I am not alone. I have people around me who share the passion for success, and who desire to achieve greatness. I was also reminded that I have a great heavenly Father who desires that I "prosper and be in health". Although my faith has been tested to the core, it hasn't been demised, but rather doubled. Success is at the end of the road now traversed - not only on a personal level, but for the university and the nation at large.

As already alluded to, NCU had an eventful year of extreme financial challenges, worrying enrolment figures, and moments when it had to re-evaluate its values and determine whether or not there is yet space in the marketplace for individuals of integrity, honesty, and a strong work ethic. But it was also a year of significant triumphs:

Our students continue to perform at a high level academically and show their excellent grasp of how to apply the theory, winning significant competitions like Eduvision 2014. The members of Herboo Enterprises, all students of NCU at the time, were the National Business Model Competition winners - who moved on to winning the award for the best international entry in the International Business Model Competition finals.

MOULDING BUSINESS-MINDED PEOPLE

We have been deliberate in fostering entrepreneurship among our students, as we have worked through the Morris Entrepreneurship Centre, operated out of the College of Business and Hospitality Management, to provide coaching for students to establish, launch, or improve their businesses.

In the Intercollegiate sporting competitions our students have done extremely well. For graduation this year we were delighted to have announced that Kirkland Williams, who graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the School of Religion and Theology, was the recipient of a full scholarship to study at Yale University. With over one-third of our student population achieving above average academic performance, and while we would want to see a greater number achieving that mark, we are nevertheless very proud of our student population as a university.

Linked somewhat to the academic performance of our students, but balanced by an established case of need and worthiness, based on good citizenship, we were most delighted that in excess of $11 million in scholarships was awarded to students. Thanks to the philanthropic spirit of both private and corporate citizens all this was done notwithstanding the general financial crunch everyone in some way faces at this time. As a university we depend very heavily on student labour to satisfy our human resource needs on our campuses. This generates for student workers a total income averaging $8 to $10 million per month. We were able to maintain this average for the year.

10,000 steps in a day

One of the most recent initiatives that engaged our workforce is the 10,000 Steps in one day programme coming out of our Health and Wellness sector. This is a collaborative effort between NCU and the Guardian Life Group, as we strive to make the university's workforce healthier. The university also continued to provide tuition discount to workers desirous of sharpening their professional tools. We shared in the joy of our own Dr Grace Kelly, executive director of the newly established Office of Civic and Governmental Relations for Community Advancement, along with retired university board chair, Pastor Noel Fraser, who were both honoured on National Heroes Day by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission in Manchester for their collective work in restorative justice, community development, philanthropy, and religion.

The university values its partnerships and was particularly pleased to have been able to serve the Jamaica Constabulary Force in providing training in Para-Professional Counselling that is offered to all new trainees coming out of the Police Academy, and the First Responders Violence Interrupters Training Programme for selected police personnel and community members who will themselves become trainers.

We are pleased that all major crimes are trending down, and as Minister of National Security Peter Bunting suggests, "the divine intervention is working". This he shared at a Stakeholder's Partnership Meeting, an initiative organised for the parish of Manchester through the Office of Civic and Governmental Relations for Community Advancement.

This meeting also involved the Ministry of Education, HEART Trust/NTA, the Social Development Commission, the Justices of the Peace led by Custos of Manchester, NCU's Community Counselling and Restorative Justice Centre and Chaplaincy Services Unit, and the Manchester Dispute Resolution Association that was established in July 2012.

Earlier in the calendar year, we collaborated with the Caribbean Maritime Institute to bring awareness of the oncoming revolution in logistics operations in Jamaica to the central Jamaica region. In the symposium held, we focused "on the educational, business, and social opportunities".

As a university, we continue to be burdened by the elusive reality of a nation that is economically prosperous, socially stable, and educationally progressive. We are concerned that not all of our children are exposed to the same level of education, and that they are not all safe. We are concerned about the aged who have no one to look after them, and the mentally unwell ones who wander our streets. We are concerned about the youth who need mentors and are looking for hope.

So as we move forward into 2015 we pledge to be more intentional in reaching out to the most vulnerable in our society as we seek to empower them. We endeavour to secure institutional accreditation through the University Council of Jamaica, thus confirming our place as one of Jamaica's premier institutions of higher learning. We will form more strategic alliances as we continue to push the vision of propelling Jamaica to first-world status by 2030. Therefore, whether you are a prospective student, a concerned parent, a willing donor, a responsible corporate citizen, or just someone who wishes to make a meaningful difference in his country, come talk to us, and let us achieve together.

Dr Trevor Gardner is the president of the Northern Caribbean University. Email feedback to editorial@gleanerjm.com or president@ncu.edu.jm