NEW YORK – In a speech by the Honourable Dr. Denzil Douglas, Prime Minister, St Kitts And Nevis, at the Education Symposium of the New York Conference on the Caribbean, June 19 Dr. Douglas felt the discussion could not be timelier stating that, “we in CARICOM Community are currently re-examining the scope and effectiveness of our overarching philosophy “education for all”.
In New York, it is clear that you are grappling with the reality of the principle of “no child left behind” especially its implications for poor black and Latino children, among whom I am sure are some descendants from the Caribbean.
In the CARICOM Community as in New York, educators and researchers are quizzical about the growing trend of male underperformance or under achievement and are sensitive to the need for corrective action that may have significant social consequences.
For the Caribbean Community there is the additional issue related to the migration of skilled and highly trained professionals and the discussions on how to tackle the “brain drain” or “brain gain” to the mutual benefit of both our societies While this panel focuses on collaboration among our higher educational institutions, it is critical to note that viable tertiary systems are highly dependent on the foundations laid during pre-school and kindergarten through to the elementary and high school levels
The establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) provides, as one of its main objectives, the free movement of goods, services and people. The free movement of skills will no doubt accelerate the growth of Tertiary Level Institutions (TLIs) in the region.
This anticipated growth will be anchored in common standards of assessments and accreditation and quality assurances, through the Caribbean Examinations Certificate (CXC), Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) and the more recently approved Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQ). They provide the basis of a structured and integrated educational system throughout the Caribbean Community and beyond. The only CARICOM country not so far involved in this integrated education system is Haiti. On the other hand, CXC and CAPE are written by students in Sint Maarten in the Netherland Antilles.
This illustration is mainly to demonstrate that the Caribbean Community provides a relatively homogenous education system that is reinforced by the trade, economic and social elements of the integration process, driven by the progress toward the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
This has implications for global partnerships as the expanded market base and elimination of barriers created by the CSME will inevitably cultivate economic growth as the number of providers increase. As such, local and regional institutional collaboration and co-operation must be encouraged. I am sure that the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies can speak more authoritatively on the existing and proposed initiatives between the UWI and other Universities in Caribbean and linkages that are being forged with higher institutions in the USA, in particular, in New York.
One important innovation which our Heads of Government have endorsed is the development of the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network (CKLN) and the technology that it will provide through ICT connectivity among higher educational institutions. The interface between CKLN and the Caribbean Universities Programme for Integrated Distance Education (CUPIDE) is anticipated to result in cost-effective education both regionally and internationally.
But even as the Caribbean Community strives to modernize its approach and to prepare for the competition occasioned by the global liberalization of education , there are realities that must be faced and challenges that need to be confronted, in some cases and embraced in others.
A recent survey done by Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery for example, shows that the tertiary education sector in the CARICOM Community is characterized by a range of public, private and foreign-owned providers. There are over 150 institutions of which 60% are public, 30% private and the remaining 10% exist with some government support.
It also shows that CARICOM States of St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, Grenada, have attracted a total of fourteen offshore tertiary education institutions to their locations, the majority of which are US sponsored and maintained medical schools.
The experience of these States with multinational tertiary institutions indicates that the commercial presence of those institutions has provided foreign direct investment. While the precise quantitative impact is yet to be determined in each country, the downstream business opportunities created is testament to the significant economic impact that FDI in Education Services can bring about.
As the lead competitor in the tertiary education sector and as a member of the WTO, the US has sought “…full commitments for market access and national treatment in higher education and training services, for adult education, and for ‘other’ education”.
This request has been made to all 145 WTO members.
Given that one significant aspect of the GATS is non-reciprocity, CARICOM Member States understandably, are quite cynical about and resistant to this quest by the USA. This is one area that is worthy of further discussion and cooperation since developed countries such as the USA are much more competitive in this sector and the domestic providers such as those in the Caribbean Community are not ready for an open, market driven environment.
Public or a private good
With this trend toward the liberalization of higher education, a debate has emerged concerning whether TLE should be viewed as a public or a private good.
In their traditional roles, TLIs are perceived as independent and sometimes critical institutions that “preserved and interpreted, and sometimes expanded, the history and culture of society” (Altbach 2001). In this regard, these TLIs are viewed principally as public goods and universities as “places of learning, research, and service to society through the application of knowledge. Academia affords a significant degree of insulation from the pressures of society – academic freedom – precisely because it serves the broader good of society. Professors are often given permanent appointment – tenure – to guarantee them academic freedom in the classroom and laboratory to teach and do research without fear of sanction from society.” (Altbach 2001)
Many student leaders and academics have criticized the ‘for profit’ TLE agenda, driven by entrepreneurial universities and multinational service providers. They suggest that the concept of the student as a consumer, and TLE as a product, fails to acknowledge the importance of education as a social tool and runs counter to the creation of a knowledge driven society, with democratic, tolerant and active citizens. There have been calls for universities to protect the essential role of TLE as a public good, and not to support its subordination to market forces that will undermine accessibility and exacerbate social inequalities.
This is a debate that will no doubt continue but in our engagement today there is need to arrive at some concrete elements of a plan for collaboration. I venture to suggest some priorities arising from this New York Conference on the Caribbean:
• Greater collaboration in research and training through the establishment of CARICOM-New York Fellowships and a special Fund dedicated for exchange at the staff and student levels
• A concerted effort to push the frontiers of knowledge by placing emphasis on areas of Research and Development, especially in areas such as tourism, transportation and climate change
• Establish common areas of research and outreach that are particularly aimed at improving the quality of life of citizens in the Caribbean and New York in such areas that connect education to health, trade, culture and promote greater public awareness especially to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, prevention of NCDs advancing cultural industries and thereby capitalizing on some of the assets of the Caribbean Diaspora.
• Involving the private sector both in the CARICOM Community and New York to sponsor goodwill tours to enhance the understanding of groups and stakeholders that share common cultural and educational objectives
• Placing greater emphasis on promoting courses on Caribbean Studies and the American connections in our TLIs
• Establishing a Charles Rangel Professorship to commemorate this momentous occasion in the annals of Caribbean USA relations.