Sun | Dec 5, 2021

UTech never a sleepy school

Published:Sunday | May 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Tony Freckleton gives a tour to the St Elizabeth Flavours Project, which has been hobbled by a lack of government support. - Contributed

Alfred Sangster, Guest Columnist

The Gleaner editorial of Sunday, May 11, 2014, in reflecting on the proposed move of UTech's current president, Professor Errol Morrison, to head the National Council of Science and Technology (NCST), headlined the upcoming move with its banner headline 'Morrison good man for the job'.

While in no way wishing to detract from the potential of Professor Morrison doing a good job as the new president of the NCST - which, incidentally, is a new job title - as the prime minister formally represents the titular head as chair of the council.

In lauding Professor Morrison's potential as the new operational leader of the NCST, The Gleaner resorted to scurrilous and rude name-calling in referring to UTech, the institution that Professor Morrison is leaving, where "he played a large part in transforming that formerly sleepy school".

UTech represented the transformation of the dynamic College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST), which had been granting its own degrees for some 10 years before being formally named a university in 1995. The university has had three presidents as its leaders:

  • Me, who led the transition from the degree-granting college - incidentally, even from those early pioneering days it was a member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities.
  • Dr Rae Davis, who led the early formal university developments with greater emphasis on research and higher degrees for its staff, the trappings of 'university' - logo, charter, chancellor, etc - and the renaming of departments as faculties with academic rankings, etc.
  • Professor Errol Morrison followed on by increasing the emphasis on the 'university idea', by adding several new faculties - law and dentistry - and moving the administration into a more structured academic mode.

I return now to the 'sleepy school' epithet The Gleaner has labelled UTech with before Morrison's transformation. The following few pre-Morrison items may be of interest in setting the record straight and challenging The Gleaner.

  • The unique manpower contribution of graduates in the areas of: architecture, construction, surveying (all disciplines) pharmacy and other health sciences, banking, hospitality and tourism management, technical teacher training, engineering and more. As the 'people's university', it represented an institution which was unique and different from the traditional UWI. It might well have been said that if the CAST/UTech graduates went on strike, they could shut down Jamaica.
  • The sports leadership of the institution with the pioneering strategies of Dennis Johnson in paving the way to the development of locally based Olympians.
  • The leadership of the institution among the aspiring tertiary colleges.
  • The links with the Caribbean islands in student intake.
  • The international connections of CAST/UTech with overseas international institutions.

An item that Professor Morrison echoed was the vision of Chancellor Edward Seaga for a University of Jamaica (UOJ). He invested resources in seeking to move this idea forward with meetings and discussions with many of the tertiary colleges. Unfortunately, petty jealousies and a seeming fear that UTech would dominate the proposal seemed to have intervened, and the project seems to have collapsed for now. Education ministry adviser Dr Franklin Johnston is now suggesting - rather late in the day - that tertiary institutions should stop duplication. Perhaps the ministry has some ideas on the matter. Whatever else must be said, it should avoid undue bureaucratic duplication as now obtains with J-TEC and UCJ.

I return to the NCST and the potential for Professor Morrison's leadership. A few words of history may be useful for Errol. The NCST has had a chequered career. Launched with a good deal of fanfare and good intentions by former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, it started well with a significant capital base and a number of islandwide science and technology projects.

Based as it was in the Office of the Prime Minister with commissioners appointed by the governor general's office, it was clearly intended to have a significant national stature. Unfortunately, decline has been the order of the day.

NO SENSE OF URGENCY

Replacement Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller did little to take the commission farther along. Then Prime Minister Bruce Golding, after a brief introduction, drifted off, and the story of dereliction and abandonment has continued with the Mrs Simpson Miller in her second coming.

There is one shining light in all the surrounding darkness that is the NCST. I recommend that Professor Morrison address this as his first priority.

I refer to the St Elizabeth Flavours Project. The project was one of the first, at the early NCST, and one of the only ones that I know that has survived. It is based in Bull Savannah in St Elizabeth.

The project involved the importation of specialised high-technology distillation equipment from Australia, which enables the plant to distil and prepare flavours from a variety of fruits. The plant also has the capacity to produce material for a school feeding programme and did have some success there.

I pay tribute to Tony Freckleton, who has struggled with the project over many years. Here are some of Tony's complaints:

  • The Ministry of Agriculture's lethargic approach in support of the project.
  • The Ministry of Education's long delays in payment for material supplied for a pilot school feeding programme.
  • The unwillingness of local businesses to use the local product rather than spend money on imported alternatives.
  • Lack of government support for the project.

Despite the numerous challenges, a number of nutraceuticals have been developed and successfully tested, both locally and abroad, which could go a far way in reducing our imported bill for medicinals.

This is a project which, if properly supported, maintained and developed, has the potential for revolutionising farming in Jamaica.

Good luck to Professor Morrison.

Alfred W. Sangster is president emeritus of UTech. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and sangsteralfred@yahoo.com.