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The importance of higher education in Jamaica

Dr. Ben Henry, Contributor

Winston Adams, a consummate entrepreneur, is the new boss of the Institute of Management and Production (IMP).

He was born in Kingston and is the fourth of eight children of the late Egbert Wellesley Adams, a businessman in Clarendon.

His father was a major inspiration to him during his high school years and instilled in him some of the values he holds as well as his current business acumen. His father died in 1980, a year before the young Adams began his university studies at the University of the West Indies. His mother Shirley Holness has lived in Canada for the past 25 years.

Adams has had a successful record in providing training opportunities at the secondary and tertiary levels. As an undergraduate at the UWI, he was the founder and president of the Council for Literature, Arts & Science Students, a university student organisation, which operated during the mid-80s. In 1987, he was awarded the prestigious USAID Scholarship (Latin American & Caribbean, LAC) to study Chemical Engineering at Howard University in the United States.

At Howard, he was an active member and officer of Toastmasters International, the Caribbean Student Organisation and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, AICHE.

Upon his return to Jamaica, he worked with the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, Petrojam as a Process Engineer and lectured part-time with the University of Technology, UTech.

In 1992, he continued to demonstrate further enterprising and organisational skills as he boldly pioneered the establishment of the Institute of Management Sciences, IMS, which in just 10 years, has emerged as the largest and most successful private higher educational institute in Jamaica, having also achieved national and international recognition.

It was also in that same year 1992 that he met his wife, Geraldine who at the time was working as a marine biologist with the Government. The couple got married in August 1995 and have two children, Shannon and Trishany.

Mrs. Adams is a trained zoologist/botanist and a lecturer by profession. She holds a B.Sc. from the UWI. She has also pursued an Executive MBA degree programme and is the new Vice President, Finance, for the combined IMS/IMP tertiary institutions.

Mr. Adams, having recognised the importance of a highly trained and qualified work-force in Jamaica's development trust, took the decision to address this need on a national scale as he seeks to enhance tertiary educational opportunities for more Jamaicans in both rural and urban areas, by setting up satellite centres throughout the island. Through his leadership, his organisation has also successfully formed valuable alliances and membership with several reputable local and overseas organisations designed to strengthened and accelerate the process of human resource development in Jamaica.

In his first exclusive interview since the acquisition of IMP and its outreach operations, Mr. Adams spoke candidly about his reasons for acquiring the institution and his vision for IMS, and IMP; and the future of higher education and its impact on national development.

Q: Why did you establish a higher education institution in 1992?

A. In the early 1990s, Jamaica was faced with what seemed then to be an insoluble problem. The country was losing thousands of young, ambitious individuals who sought higher educational opportunities overseas because there were not many recognised or non-traditional higher education programmes on the island for further development through formal training.

This was proving to be an expensive option and was only available to a few Jamaicans who could afford to do so. In addition, the country was losing a number of trained persons seeking additional educational and employment opportunities overseas; this was costing the Government more to train and recruit additional personnel.

I saw an excellent entrepreneurial opportunity and recognised that something had to be done to provide more accessible, high quality and flexible higher education training programmes to Jamaicans in both urban and rural areas.

This resulted in the formation of the Institute of Management Sciences, IMS, which we are now pleased has grown to become one of the most respected private higher educational institutions in Jamaica.

Q: How would you describe the growth and some of the developments of IMS thus far?

A: As you know, IMS was established in January 1992 as a self-supporting, higher education institution.

A board of advisors consisting of seven members initially was appointed. Members serve for a maximum of three years.

One decade later, the institution has a comprehensive outreach centre in Montego Bay, offering several diploma and degree level programmes in western Jamaica. However, from 1993 to 1997, IMS had also successfully developed and offered a two-year associate degree programme in business administration at four other regional training centres in of Kingston and St. Andrew, Clarendon, Manchester and St. Ann. Many graduates have since been accepted into other more advanced baccalaureate and graduate degree programmes offered by other local and overseas institutions including the UWI, UTech and Northern Caribbean University.

Offerings have since grown from three certificate and diploma-level programmes to seven professional diploma programmes both in Kingston and Montego Bay, two associate of science degrees in business and management information systems, three bachelor's degrees in business administration, tourism and hospitality management and computer science, in conjunction with the Florida International University, FIU.

These programmes are designed to serve and meet the training needs of the entire spectrum of both public and private sector organisations throughout Jamaica.

To date, our graduates number some 5,000 at the certificate, diploma and associate degree levels, who are making a significant difference to their organisations and to the country at large.

In 1996, we began forming some unique local and international alliances that became integral to our success in Jamaica. Corporate partnerships and trade exchange arrangements were formed with Sandals Resorts International for hotel accommodation for local and overseas faculty, as well as IMS' staff, Air Jamaica and Air Jamaica Express for local and international travel, and the British Executive Services Overseas inter alia, for management consultancy.

In addition, we sought and obtained membership in prestigious local and international umbrella organisations such as the Joint Committee on Tertiary Education, the American Council on Education, the Association of Caribbean Tertiary Institutions, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, the Jamaica Computer Society and the Jamaica Association for Training and Development. Between 1997 and 2000, other international partnerships were formed with the Florida International University, Howard University, the University of Florida and Penn State University.

The executive master's in business administration programme introduced in 1997 in collaboration with FIU, provided the launching pad for our further growth. The first cohort consisted of an unprecedented 78 students recruited from corporate Jamaica as well as the wider populace. The EMBA degree programme, shortly after its introduction, gained great momentum and another large cohort was added within a year, and a third and fourth in September 2001 and July 2002 respectively.

In 2000, a bachelor's degree in Business Administration with the University of North Florida was added. Again responding to the demands of the Jamaican market, this undergraduate programme was introduced to satisfy the needs of eligible mid-level working adults in the business sector. Six months later, we added another bachelor's degree in hospitality manage-ment programme in conjunction with the FIU School of Hospitality Management.

In order to satisfy the needs of qualified managers and other mid-professionals in the computer information/technology sector, the FIU bachelor's in computer science degree was subsequently added in March 2002.

Q: What are some of your short to medium-term goals and objectives for IMP?

A: Well, I believe we are breaking new frontiers in tertiary education and are tooling up to effectively compete in the higher education free market. With this major and strategic acquisition of IMP, we are not only significantly expanding our business operations in Jamaica, but ensuring that much higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness are achieved.

The acquisition would also assist us in reducing operational costs through shared support services and staff. The growth of revenue was also one of the objectives of the purchase, and the combined synergy is expected to result in even greater levels of profitability.

In terms of new programmes, we intend to launch four additional graduate and undergraduate degree programmes between January 2003 and March 2003, to be offered by FIU and at least one other highly reputable U.S. university. The new combined IMS/IMP institutions, along with their international and local partners, will make our entity the largest private higher education alliance of its kind in Jamaica.

Our valued students and participants essentially, will begin to have increasing access to more quality higher educational programmes both at the bachelor and graduate degree levels right here in Jamaica through formal articulation and transfer credit arrangements with our U.S. partners.

Like many other local and overseas tertiary institutions, we are beginning to engage in a process of reinventing ourselves and to promote best practices in the delivery of all our higher educational programmes in a concerted effort to become more student-centred and indeed more student friendly.

In addition, we believe that joint venture approaches, such as that between IMS and FIU, with grassroots local and international "hands on" experience in training and human resource development, will provide our students and clients with the highest quality service. Our participants therefore will become our principal focus.

We will continue to position both IMP and IMS among the leading private higher education and management training institutions in Jamaica and indeed in the Caribbean. The quality and reputation of our academic lecturing staff also will continue to be an important attraction.

The market for higher education in Jamaica is large and growing partly as a result of the significant expansion of the private sector, which has created a need for more trained and skilled personnel, and provided a major stimulus for professions to advance their management and business skills.

Studies have shown that Jamaicans are continuously seeking educational opportunities to improve their marketability, earning potential, and social position. I am confident that it is against this background that we will continue to offer programmes, which are even more relevant to satisfy training needs for all levels of employees, particularly within the context of urban and national development.

Finally, the image of IMP and IMS will be one whose reputation rests on high academic standards, relevance to the requirements of employers, and accreditation and articulation which will allow easier credit transfers to other tertiary institutions locally and abroad.

Q: Will there be any job losses as a result of the acquisition?

A: With any acquisition or merger, there could be job losses, but we don't expect any at this time. There are currently five branches and approximately 70 fulltime administrative and 120 academic staff members between both institutions, and so within the next three months we will have to be engaged in a series of discussions with the current combined staff in assessing the level and continued interest of our human capital. We will need to determine how focused, loyal and committed the staff will continue to be and their medium to long-term expectations of the expanded institutions.

Q: What would you say has accounted for the success of your organisation? Is there any underlying philosophy that guides your activities?

A: For the past several years I have tried to guide myself by some of the principles and habits as espoused by a famous author, Stephen Covey. We believe the true foundation of success is based on certain qualities like humility, integrity, modesty, courage, patience and indeed industry.

We have tried to integrate these basic principles into our business relationships. Also, the ability to be proactive and to take risks, to remain focused, to put first things first, to develop a win/win frame of mind and to seize opportunities that may appear and disappear in an instant.

We are absolutely convinced that these are some of the fundamental principles and approaches that have empowered us to offer more effective organisational leadership and create positive circumstances for ourselves as well as the principal stakeholders, our students and other clients.

Q: What is your vision for the future of higher education in Jamaica?

A: Higher education in Jamaica and indeed the region is undoubtedly emerging as a global mega-industry. I believe it has and will continue to be the primary force driving the sustainability of development.

Over the past 10 years, it has expanded significantly both in terms of the types of programmes being offered and the number of students/participants engaged in these programmes.

However, Jamaica and the Caribbean still lag far behind Europe, Latin America and North America in the number of persons, in the eligible age cohort of 18-34, who have access to higher education. Less than 10 per cent in this age cohort is currently enrolled. In Latin America for instance, enrolment is 35 per cent and is rising closer to the North American norm which exceeds 50 per cent. In response, CARICOM has targeted a cohort enrolment of 15 per cent by 2005.

I must make reference to a recent, excellent publication by the UWI, The Brain Train, co-authored by my friend Dr. Anthony Perry, which correctly alluded to the fact that "to reach this target will be a struggle, even though it will be woefully insufficient as far as impacting development is concerned."

While I am in total agreement, we must nevertheless continue to try hard and develop a coherent response for the whole island. I too firmly believe that nothing short of a higher education revolution will be adequate in order to seriously increase access to quality higher educational programmes in Jamaica.

Mass access is perhaps Jamaica's and indeed the Caribbean's last chance to secure sustainable development. Furthermore, I also share similar vision so aptly described by The Brain Train for the future of higher education in Jamaica. These are summarised as follows:

We must begin to promote popular participation in development thinking by opening access to all for relevant higher education in Jamaica.

I believe that one of the challenges for Jamaica's tertiary education is that we must effect an attitudinal transformation and create an entirely new mentality or mindset. That is, we must popularise the idea by rooting it in a common sense approach, that without a focus on quality tertiary education our people will essentially be dysfunction especially in the new global village.

In addition, the future of quality higher education in our country will depend to some degree on the extent to which all the stakeholders are able to critically determine the relevance and effectiveness of the programmes being offered by our tertiary institutions.

It would be my delight to see the day when we are able to increase the current low access to quality higher education from below 10 per cent to at least the minimum 15 per cent target. There should be tremendous support for this since the macroeconomic impact of increasing access to tertiary education is indeed very strong.

Q: What do you believe are some of the weakness of the Jamaica tertiary education system? What bothers you most about the sector?

A. First, I believe there are too few degree granting institutions especially in our rural areas. Second, the emergence in some cases, of evidently low quality tertiary education programmes on our landscape specially over the past five years which could damage the long-term viability and image of the higher educational sector. Third, the trend in some cases, of an apparently irrational expansion that could cause some degree of chaos in the system. I am concern therefore that as many tertiary institutions are already constrained by inadequate resources and facilities they could be further jeopardised in their quest to significantly increase access over the next few years. This would have an adverse effect on quality of delivery. Finally, there is a concern that too often many tertiary institutions seem to focus only on the academic development of their students and not on character development and social responsibilities. Irrespective of the student's main discipline of studies, he should be exposed to other areas as well including general education courses which undoubtedly will provide a greater perspective, depth and breath to their learning experience.

Q: How do you feel about acquiring this significant landmark private tertiary institution from the Matalons?

A: I feel very humbled and fortunate. At the same time, I also recognise the tremendous responsibility we have to continue to make a valued contribution to the further growth and development of quality higher education in our country as we work assiduously to increase access to an acceptable level.

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