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Is Cave Hill on the decline? Part II

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Editor: This article builds upon the thoughts I expressed in an initial one that was published under the same title on October 21, 2016. In that first article, I lamented the reduction in student numbers at Cave Hill, and the reversal of a university policy, which has resulted in the erection of law faculties on all three campuses of The University of the West Indies. What a wasteful duplication that the region can ill afford! Not only is this policy ruinous from an economic standpoint, it has also affected the quality of education delivered universitywide, and it is inimical to the regional integration interests. By this insular retreat of policy, our foremost educational institution has shut itself off from the benefits of economies of scale, thrown all its campuses into open competition with each other, and may well have dug its own grave. A university divided against itself simply cannot stand. Hopefully, the damage is not permanent.

I showed how the policy about-turn has diminished the richness and diversity of the Cave Hill Campus experience. Whereas Cave Hill was once a bubbling Caribbean melting pot, it is now more like a watery soup without much regional flavour. Worse yet, the faculty duplication that is true about law is also true in respect of medicine and engineering, and therefore the problem is multiplied.

It is one thing for The University to abandon its regional integration mandate, but it is an altogether different affair for it to be losing its way as far as its core function is concerned – the business of delivering high quality education to its students as an academic institution. We already see how these two issues are intertwined. However, beyond tolerating the side effects of a wasteful repetition of faculties, there are other indications that The University authorities could not be bothered about the quality of education delivered by the institution.

On another note, we cannot afford to take our eyes off the rising cost of UWI degrees. Tuition fees are going up and the cost of living is now sky high. As an example of this, the fees for living on one of the new mega-halls at Mona are now as high as 450 US dollars per month! That is higher than the cost of renting a private apartment off-campus. Such a scenario was previously unthinkable. In my university days, 450 US dollars was almost enough to cover hall fees for a full semester. These escalating fees are causing more and more students (including economically disadvantaged students) to take out loans of $100,000+ to finance their studies. The repayment burden is often onerous. Some people ask the obvious question: is it worthwhile?

The price of the degree is increasing, but what about its value? This brings me to my next point. The University needs to get its priorities right. Barack Obama demonstrated an abundance of wisdom in his flagship book, The Audacity of Hope, when he alluded to the need for tertiary education institutions to focus their fund-raising efforts more on improving the quality of instruction than on building new sporting facilities. After reading his comments, it struck me how remarkably similar the American experience is to our own in the Caribbean. I have always been worried from my Cave Hill days about the subordination of the central academic or educational concerns to the interests of sports and commerce.

Cave Hill boasts about the quality of its cricket pitch, athletics stadium and football field, but what about the state of its laboratories, lecturers and libraries? This underscores a deep-seated perversion of purpose. I hope that that something will soon be done about this sorry state of affairs to prevent a further deterioration of the situation. The way I see it, we need a full-scale forum on The University to check its movements, arrest any decline and return our premier institution of higher education and regional integration to its former glory.

RT Luke V Browne
lukebrowne@yahoo.com

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