Occasional Essays
May 26, 2006
University Education

St Clair Dacon, Henry Williams and Carl Charles have now passed away. God rest their souls. The point I wish to make about these gentlemen is this. Over 50 years ago all three of them wanted to obtain a university education. To do so they took courses from Wolsey Hall and studied at home. After long, hard and lonely years of slogging they obtained a B.A. External from London University.{{more}}

With the establishment of UWI, many more students, including the children and grandchildren of the gentlemen mentioned earlier, were able to go there and get degrees in a variety of fields. Today we actually have a fusion of the two processes. Students do distance learning not from Wolsey Hall but through the UWI for a year or two and then go to the university to complete their courses. The present Government has made education its top priority and wants to make access to university training even greater.

This emphasis on education is not all misplaced. In all countries human beings are a critical resource. In small states it is even more so since there is likely to be little of any other type of resource. Indeed in one such state this emphasis on human resources even led to the advocacy of eugenics, with persons of high IQs being expected to marry persons of high IQs and people of low IQs being discouraged from having children. Obviously, this sort of thing is not on in SVG. The Government, however, can increase access to tertiary education in two ways. It can increase the number of scholarships to study abroad and it can aspire to establish its own university.

The number of scholarships has already been increased significantly. In addition to those to UWI we now have scholarships to Cuba, Mexico, Taiwan and Malaysia. The good student must be spoilt for choice.

In such a student’s situation I would refuse to do any course considered an easy option for there are a lot of graduates out there and employers will know what these easy options are and avoid graduates in them like the plague. I would give careful consideration to the scholarships to the Spanish- speaking countries. For with them I would be getting two for one, knowledge of Spanish and also of my special subject. A second language increases ones marketability. Our contact with the neighbouring Spanish countries is increasing and Spanish is making inroads into English’s virtual monopoly in the US. Moreover, if you want a job in an international agency then a foreign language is a must. Of course having completed the first degree I would then go to an English speaking country for a second degree.

The idea of SVG having its own university is not as outlandish as it may at first seem. A university, in particular, if it can attract foreign students, is not only an educational but also an economic institution. The financial benefits we derive from having the Medical School here are evidence of it. Moreover, the world over, there are towns that owe their existence purely to the presence of a university.

Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada and Guyana all have their own universities. In addition, some foreign universities have established branches in the region and several islands have off-shore medical and veterinary colleges. Surveying the scene I am reminded of an address given by the late Dr. Eric Williams when I was a UWI student. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said, “Your university came on the scene too late, in conception it was too narrow. Its period of tutelage lasted too long.” These words resonated with me so much that even 40 years later I still hear them ringing in my ears. Many of the newer institutions have probably emerged to remedy the deficiencies to which the good doctor alluded.

If St. Vincent and the Grenadines is to have a university it would probably have to come by way of upgrading the Community College. Its entrance requirements would continue to be several O’ level passes. Its main function would, however, be to run three or four year degree programmes. The subjects taught would have to be of a very applied nature. These could include marketing, entrepreneurship, tourism management, information technology, accountancy, graphic design, plumbing, pharmacy and refrigeration.

The hope would be that people with this sort of training and some creativity would be able to develop the economy. Of course such an education would, like nursing, also facilitate emigration which has long been one of our people’s survival strategies. Even if we were to attempt to do only the first year of these courses it would be very costly both to obtain facilities and quality staff. Given the heavy financial commitments the Government already has, it would probably not be able to undertake this project in the immediate future.