What’s Stop­ping the SALCC/UWI Part­ner­ship?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - ---Joshua St. Aimee

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.

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