Launtia Cuff, Gleaner Writer
Education has long been recognised as a driving force for change and development. Educational tourism is one of the ways in which education can be used to influence development and investment in the Jamaican economy. So says Dr Ram Chalassani, United States-based executive director of the All American Institute of Medical Sciences (AAIMS), an offshore medical school in Black River, St Elizabeth.
Educational tourism is a concept of tourism motivated by the desire to learn. The tourist experience is only secondary to the educational aspect, which becomes the main feature of the experience.
"Knowledge services is the main key I'm looking at in the future. In most of the countries like Canada or Singapore or Dubai or even the US, they take it (education) as a big income-generating [activity], and that's how they increase their economy," said Chalassani.
Increased visitor arrivals
Chalassani believes that an investment in institutions of higher learning in the country could increase visitor arrivals to the island. He said this is so as individuals are constantly seeking to advance their education and may have the desire or need to study overseas. He said those who may not be able to afford attending a tertiary institution in the United States, Europe, or other countries may consider the island as an option if we have the facilities to offer a high quality of tertiary-level education.
The doctor said when compared to the length of stay of a visitor who comes for leisure and business purposes, a student who spends years in Jamaica is continually contributing to the economy of the country.
He also said that there needs to be added emphasis on increasing educational opportunities in rural Jamaica as this would not only draw in foreign revenue, but would cause a redistribution of the economy from the urban areas to rural areas, which need development as well.
"AAIMS is looking at what we could do for Black River and St Elizabeth - something they could benefit from. We need to have the economy moving, flowing, and when the students come in, they're going to stay for two years minimum. We have students who are going to stay for two years rather than a visitor that comes in for three nights. Every overseas student that we have, their parents have visited; their friends have come to visit.
"Even if the students aren't coming from abroad - our thing is to get more students from abroad eventually - even students not from overseas, when they were living in Kingston, they were contributing to Kingston. Now, there is a shift of economy from one place of Jamaica to another, a redistribution to a place that needs it," he added.
AAIMS, which started in January 2011, is an offshore medical school where foreign students train before returning overseas. It was started with about six students. Dean of the school, Dr Owen James, said the school has been growing and there have been some changes since the school's establishment. The school offers a pre-med programme as well as a medical degree programme.