Academic accreditation: truths and falsehoods
Alfred Sangster, GUEST COLUMNIST
I start off the discussion with an article by Dr Witford Reid in The Sunday Gleaner of September 7, 2014. Dr Reid, who obviously in his article is speaking on behalf of Northern Caribbean University (NCU) - the former West Indies College - raises two concerns. The first having to do with the University Council of Jamaica and Northern Caribbean University and the second having to do with University of the West Indies.
In the first concern, obviously seeking to advance the cause of NCU, Dr Reid states "that NCU was the first institution to obtain accreditation from the UCJ for two of its science degrees. During the ensuing years, the University of Technology (UTech) came on board, and as they say, the rest is history. For eight to 10 years, NCU was the only tertiary institution with accredited degrees from the UCJ. UTech started after it received university status".
I must begin by addressing many of the errors in Dr Reid's paper. It is important to get our dates and facts correctly. The following errors are clearly identified by reference to Dr Reid's paper.
Error No. 1: The first tertiary institution to receive UCJ accreditation was the Jamaica Theological Seminary, which, under its then president, Dr Noelliste, received accreditation in March 1991 for two programmes: the BA in arts and the BTh in theology.
Error No. 2: The College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST), before it became UTech in 1995, received accreditation for its Bachelor of (Electrical) Engineering degree programme in May 1991.
Error No. 3: The Northern Caribbean University - mid-level associate degree programmes - the ASc in biology and the ASc in business administration were accredited in October 1991. These were not the first to be accredited by UCJ, as claimed by Dr Reid.
Error No. 4: Several other institutions, for example, the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology (CGST) - first accredited in April 1993 - were accredited during the early years of the UCJ accreditation process. UCJ was established in 1988.
It is worth recording an element of the CAST accreditation process mentioned under Error No. 2 above. The UCJ was formally established in July 1988 under a JLP administration. The government changed in 1989, and the new minister of education was initially suspicious of the UCJ concept of accreditation and the fact that CAST had been established as a degree-granting institution. He had initially been sold on an earlier PNP concept of the idea of an umbrella organisation known as the College of Jamaica.
The chairman of UCJ (Dr Irvine) was removed and a new chairman, Dr Keith Panton, the president of Alcan, appointed. Dr Panton used his two positions to reject the legitimacy of the CAST BEng engineering degree for Alcan employees in terms of their equivalence with the UWI BSc Eng degree. CAST decided to use the UCJ accreditation process as a test case. A high-level accreditation team was appointed by the UCJ, which included a senior UWI engineering faculty representative, the deputy principal of one of the UK polytechnics, the president of the local institution of engineers, and the executive director of the Bureau of Standards.
At the end of the review process, two objectives were achieved. These were: that both the CAST degree-granting process was nationally reputable and that the degree was accredited and technically equivalent to that of UWI for Alcan.
UCJ Accreditation of UWI Programmes
I now return to Dr Reid's second concern. He alleges that the UWI has adopted an arrogant academic attitude in not seeking accreditation from the national accrediting body, the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ). Some history is important.
The University College of the West Indies (UCWI) was established in September 1948. For the early days of its life, UCWI was an associated college of London University. The umbilical cord to London University was formally cut in 1962 under the leadership of vice-chancellor and campus principal, Sir Arthur Lewis, with UWI being established in its own right. This would have been 26 years before the UCJ was established. UWI could well have given some guidance to the UCJ.
National, regional and long-established universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, London, Harvard, etc., have their historical legitimacy and credible procedures to justify their standards. Clearly, UWI needs to maintain its standards, but its history has proven this to be so, and where academic and professional standards are tested, these are normally tested by professional organisations such as those in medicine, engineering, architecture, dentistry, etc.