The Ross University issue
The recent announcement about the relocation of Ross University from Dominica to Barbados should force us to look at certain realities that our countries face in this global market economy.
Instead much of the discussion has centred around placing blame, much of it levelled at PM Mottley. We need to broaden our understanding of the issues involved. Let us first recognise that ‘off-shore’ Universities like Ross are largely profit- making ventures so that they make decisions based on that fact. It is their interest first, 40 years or not.
A number of questions come to mind. What in the first place prompted the decision to set up school in Dominica? There is discussion about how much they contributed to the economy of Dominica, but it should not be a percentage issue. After 40 years, the government and people of Dominica would have made certain investments catering to their presence.
I think particularly of persons renting homes and the impact on supermarket business. The sudden decision to move would obviously have been a terrible blow. And it might be that the Dominican government had taken their presence for granted and not created the environment necessary for a medical school to function in the 20th century. Did they also fail to fulfil certain promises made? A letter to Ross from Prime Minister Skeritt has raised concerns particularly if one has an interest in education as distinct from the economic impact on the country.
The letter states, “I wish to assure you that all the arrangements we discussed for the accreditation of Ross to the Medical Board have been acted upon, to meet the desired expectation.” I do not fully understand what that means, and I hope that my interpretation is not the correct one. Was it that the Prime Minister or his government was supposed to facilitate the accreditation of Ross? Why should a Prime Minister be involved in that when there should be a process in place?
It appears to me that the decision to move would have been contemplated for some time. The hurricane and its impact on Dominica might only have facilitated their final decision. The Dominican government claimed to have been in contact with the management of Ross indicating their efforts to facilitate early start of their programmes. Barbados might not have had a hurricane in a long time, but it is still within the hurricane zone. If, heaven forbid, a hurricane affects Barbados in the same manner it did Dominica, is one to believe that they would look for another location? Obviously, there is more in the mortar beside the pestle. Are the factors that prompted their presence 40 years ago no longer present?
One prominent Dominican described the move as “an act of regional treachery”.
Although PM Mottley pointed out that she had nothing to do with the decision to move, it does reflect some realities for CARICOM. Before CARIFTA, one of the regional concerns was that investors could play off one country against the other as they sought concessions for tax holidays. It appears based on reports from PM Mottley that return to Dominica was not an option. Where does that leave CARICOM? Any investor can hold our countries hostage, suggesting that if not that country then the relocation might be out of the region.
PM Skeritt tried to put a bright side to the issue and decried his peoples’ outrage at Barbados. He pointed to the assistance received from Barbados even before the devastation of the hurricane. Even if one cannot blame PM Mottley, it reflects certain realities and the hold which investors can have. And remember that was after a 40- year presence. Remember too, that Barbados desperately needs a boost to its economy. There is obviously much more to be said.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian