EDITORIAL - Playing fast and loose with students
It seems that a bit of the mess is being cleaned up. This week, Professor E. Nigel Harris, the vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), disclosed that the Teachers' Colleges of Jamaica, the relatively new umbrella body for the specialist institutions that provide teacher training, is on the verge of signing a memorandum of understanding with his university for them to deliver UWI-accredited degrees. The UWI has already conducted its vetting of the participating institutions and the programmes they will offer to ensure that these degrees are worthy of its imprimatur.
This agreement is significant in the face of the recent slew of public complaints by students who completed degree programmes at presumably reputable tertiary institutions - including some run by the Government - only to find out that their degrees have not been accredited by the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ), the body established to ensure the quality standard of tertiary institutions. In that regard, these diplomas could turn out to be expensively acquired, but hardly more than ornately printed bits of paper.
As a globally recognised, peer-reviewed university that predated the UCJ, the UWI degrees and other courses do not require the council's certification. It does that for itself. So, those teachers' college students who sign up for degrees to be conferred by the UWI can be assured of the quality of these programmes, and that there are unlikely to be questions about their provenance.
In the face of these developments, we are surprised that institutions like the Caribbean Maritime Institute, a government institution that has been particularly loud in promotion of, and its place in training of people for logistics, can find itself in a situation where students have completed multi-year studies without the certainty of their degrees being accredited by the UCJ.
The HEART Trust is a government training agency funded by payroll taxes on employers and employees. It runs basic skills and higher vocational training institutions, including some that offer degree programmes, one of which is the Bachelor of Education in Applied Technology. It stretches credulity that a student could complete his studies and not receive an accredited diploma because, as one complained to this newspaper, "the institution had not sought permission" from the UCJ "before starting the programme". There are similar complaints about the old - more than 300 years - and venerable Mico University College and the recent, private start-up, Hydel University College.
TAKING STUDENTS FOR GRANTED
These outcomes suggest poor institutional management and that students are being taken for granted. But there are failures, too, on the part of students and the UCJ - the former because they have an obligation to assure themselves of the legitimacy and value of courses before they put out hard-earned money for their education. Perhaps some act in desperation.
In the case of the UCJ, we appreciate that it is not its role to regulate/police the behaviour of tertiary institutions. That is what we suspect will, in time, be the job of Maxine Henry-Wilson's new Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission. But that does not completely absolve the UCJ of some level of oversight, or at least to provide consumers with information about its systems, procedures and processes: public education.
That need not be expensive. The UCJ could start by updating its website, which, supposedly, lists among its offering certified programmes. There is nothing. It does, however, name institutions registered with the UCJ. That's a start.
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