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Merger of Community Colleges Not On the Cards

Published:Thursday | January 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Henry-Wilson

A suggestion for several community colleges to be merged and designated as universities has not been met with favour by the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission (J-TEC).

Maxine Henry-Wilson, J-TEC's commissioner and chief executive officer, said the suggestion is not being considered by regulators. She said, too, that the commission is not mandated to create universities or effect mergers of institutions.

A possible merger of community colleges would contradict a desire of the J-TEC commissioner for more options for tertiary education to be made available.

Kevin O. Sangster, a private citizen, in a letter to the editor, proposed recently that Montego Bay Community and the Sam Sharpe Teachers' colleges, which are both in St James, be merged. He also said the new entity could be branded the University of Western Jamaica.

DIFFERENT OFFERINGS

Henry-Wilson argued that community colleges provide an avenue for persons who are unable to matriculate to a university and, as such, it is in the best interest of the country to maintain the community college system.

"We are not in the business of creating new universities, because what we want is for there to be a differentiation in the types of offerings that are made, and community colleges provide certain assets, including things like affordability, et cetera, which are not necessarily negated by universities," she said.

There are currently eight affiliate colleges, five of them being community colleges and the other three being multi-disciplinary colleges. The colleges offer programmes from the certificate, diploma, associate and baccalaureate levels, as well as a number of continuing-education courses.

The colleges are governed by the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica (CCCJ). The suggestion for community colleges to be merged has also raised concerns about whether or not the functions of the council can be absorbed by the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ) and J-TEC.

Dr. Donna Powell-Wilson, executive director of the CCCJ, has, however, noted that the council has a separate role to play.

"My understanding is that J-TEC will regulate the tertiary education sector, while UCJ will be the accrediting body. Currently, the CCCJ does not accredit programmes or institutions. While J-TEC will regulate the sector, the CCCJ will continue to provide support for the colleges in curriculum development, examination and assessment, awards, and opportunities for professional development for faculty," she said in an email response to The Gleaner.

Describing what she calls an alternative pathway, Henry-Wilson also argued that there is an imperative to enhance the ability of community colleges to meet the needs of the labour market. To this end, J-TEC has completed a study, which highlights niches that should be embraced by community colleges.

The CCCJ has been using the study to chart the way forward for its expansion of the community-college system.

andre.poyser@gleanerjm.com