The President made the comments in the keynote address at the formal opening of the 14 th annual conference of the Association of Caribbean Higher Education Administrators (ACHEA) at the Teaching and Learning Complex of the St. Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies.
The conference runs for three days, concluding on Saturday with discussions on the “Sustainability of Higher Education through quality assurance and quality enhancement” and a panel discussion on “Gender and Higher Education.” Other subjects on yesterday’s agenda included “University porn: Protecting your institution’s Cyber-image as a part of its internationalisation effort” and “The Spiderman in higher education administration.”
President Carmona questioned whether the establishment by every Caribbean island of their own tertiary level institutions serves to reinforce “our Caribbean-ness” and whether it results in real Caribbean growth. “I sometimes detect that a type of regional divide is setting in,” he lamented, “and there is a lack of real Caribbean connection among the islands, and I am concerned about this.”
He recalled the days when students from Jamaica would come to Trinidad and Tobago to study, and he himself was forced to go to Jamaica to pursue a chosen course of study, when, for example, all persons in the Caribbean had to complete their Law degree in Barbados, and all persons who wanted to study medicine had to go to Jamaica.
He added that because of such arrangements, “we now have the capacity to pick up our telephones and call prime ministers of the region and top surgeons of the region. And this to my mind is something of concern. Is it possible then, that in the context of the curriculum and the syllabus that provision is made for doing some kind of coursework in the Caribbean region as part of your elective — because we need to be together.”
He also questioned why in the Caribbean airfares for students are just as high as for adults, and hotel rates for students are the same as for adults. “Don’t we realise that the student of today is the executive of tomorrow?”
He said 20/20 cricket had begun to help in creating the regional solidarity that he was beginning to feel was lacking. Observing that this was ironic, the President said the teams are made up of members from throughout the region, and they are followed around by their Caribbean fans “so there continues to be that communicative and cultural integration through sport beyond the carnivals of the Caribbean.” He said that with the right mix of technology, critical thinking techniques, financial and other investments the region can re-invent its education system for success, including its tertiary institutions.
He said the aim of the revision must be to provide higher education in the Caribbean that is globally competitive and twenty-first century relevant. He said it was also necessary to take a “good, hard look” at the region’s primary and secondary school curriculum, and include specific subjects “if only because the economies of our Caribbean countries are in many cases wholly dependent on these subject areas.”
He added that there must also be a commitment that tertiary education in the Caribbean ceases to be the luxury which it has become “to being a basic necessity like food, shelter, and healthcare, and coupled with that it must be an engine for social transformation...that we must, in fact, not be creating intellectual monsters, but persons who, in fact, are clothed with dignity, who are clothed with a philosophy of compassion, and fairness and justice for all.”