What’s Stopping the SALCC/UWI Partnership?
At a press conference earlier this month the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles, revealed that UWI had made numerous offers to partner Sir Arthur Lewis Community College with the regional institution. If accepted, the offer would have resulted in SALCC becoming branded as part of the UWI, offering UWI programmes and having access to the university's libraries.
Said Sir Beckles, "We have been trying to persuade governments in Saint Lucia for 20 years to let us develop the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College into a university college, where we can build capacity for young Saint Lucians. It hasn't happened, and we are disappointed." He indicated that the reluctance to accept the offer may be linked to unfounded concerns that UWI would take over the college. When contacted for comment, former education ministers Mario Michel (now a judge) and Dr. Robert Lewis both declined.
The current OECS Director General, Dr. Didacus Jules, was the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education from 1997-2004, when Michel was education minister. He indicated in an interview with the STAR that there had been many discussions with UWI on how to improve and extend access to university education but UWI's position had not always been consistent.
Said Jules, “This has not been a smooth road. It has been contentious because successive governments have pushed back, insisting that whatever solution is put on the table for improving access to non-campus territories must be a costeffective option, a quality option, and must be in conformity with the needs of member states.”
Meanwhile, non-campus territories stood firm on their position, insisting “the process of determining the programme, the content, and the direction should be a joint process and it should not be an imposition by UWI”.
In the time of the last Labour Party administration an attempt was made by UWI to partner with SALCC. Saint Lucia's representation comprised members of SALCC's board, former governor general Dame Pearlette Louisy and Dr. Jules, who recalls that from the onset communication was poor. “We kept asking UWI to send the agenda and the proposal in writing, ahead of meetings. They resisted; they would come and present, and then we would get something in writing. That didn't allow for adequate preparation on our end because you don't go into a negotiation blind.”
He went on: “When they finally put stuff in writing one of the things put on the table was that part of the process of becoming a university college required that UWI audit SALCC to see what its standards and procedures were. It would cost the government of Saint Lucia almost US$20,000 for that audit to be done. That was a point of objection because our position was, if we're paying all of this money to the university, why should we then be charged to do that?” Jules also challenged the standards of the audit, and whether UWI themselves had audited their own campuses to that degree.
What followed was a change in UWI's stance after Sir Hilary Beckles became the Vice Chancellor. “It's not a simple matter that an offer was made and there was a rejection,” Jules insisted. “There's a history behind it, of difficult negotiations and unwillingness on the part of the UWI to take into account and listen to what were the needs of the member states. Now that professor Beckles has assured that the university is ready to respect the autonomy of the member states, that they are willing to listen, that they are willing to shape something, you now have a basis for serious discussion.”
Despite being unable so far to agree with UWI, Jules is nevertheless of the mindset that working together is the only viable option for Saint Lucia: “Successive administrations have spoken about SALCC as a university by itself and I have consistently voiced my opposition to this. If we cannot sustain a community college, what kind of university are you talking about? A university of any international quality will require substantial investment in faculty standards, in infrastructure (libraries, laboratories etc), in research and in alignment with developmental challenges of the society.
“I believe the way forward has to be cooperation with UWI, but the cooperation has to be on the basis of equal footing; noncampus territories are insistent on that. You cannot treat the non-campus territories as if we are appendages of an empire.”
Meanwhile the education minister Dr. Gale Rigobert has informed this reporter that conversations with Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles will take place.
Former education permanent secretary Dr. Didacus Jules says the way forward for SALCC should be with UWI.