Education and training in the Caribbean
by Gerald C. LALOR
The region served by the University of the West Indies (UWI)
extends from Belize on the Central American mainland in a wide arc, through the
islands which delineate the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean, to Trinidad
and Tobago just off the Venezuelan coast - and further south to Guyana on the
mainland of South America. The total population of the region is only about 5.6
million but as shown in Table 1, many of the island countries are densely
populated with; relatively low per capita domestic products.
The distances between countries can be quite large: Nassau, in
the Bahamas, is 950 miles from Belize City, Belize, and some 1800 miles from
Port of Spain, Trinidad. Transportation between the countries is reasonably good
but can be time-consuming, even by air.
Recent years have been difficult for most of the countries and
the level of external debt is very high indeed. Falling profits in the
agricultural sector have been a burden and, despite heroic efforts, it is
becoming no easier to meet many of the basic needs of the increasing
populations. Prices for low technology products and raw materials are generally
low and substitute materials threaten the markets for traditional products,
while computer-assisted manufacturing and robotics erode many of the advantages
of cheap labour. These all make quality education even more essential but
problems of scale and inadequate finances have made its provision difficult.
However, to some extent these problems have encouraged the sharing of
educational resources at the university level across the region.
Caribbean educational systems
As a consequence of centuries of association with Britain, the
education systems of the Commonwealth Caribbean are quite homogeneous. In each
territory a Minister is responsible for the administration, operation, and
overall development, of the system. All governments provide, at least to some
extent, pre-school, primary, secondary, special, and post-secondary level
education including vocational education, teacher training, and other
programmes. In general, students in these countries read for the same
examinations and seek entry to the same university.
Formal education begins at about six years of age. After five
years at the primary level there is an 11 + examination which selects for the
academic stream of the secondary level. Another five years bring
the student to the Ordinary level examinations of the Universities of Cambridge
or London and, increasingly, of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) which
has been set up to better reflect the needs and situation of the Caribbean.
About one fifth of the candidates who have performed well at the O
level remain in school to complete the A level which is a more
specialised two-year course aimed largely at University admission.
Table 1: Some country indicators for
the English-speaking Caribbean
The O levels are, therefore, school leaving
examinations for most of the students who then seek employment. Entry to the
West Indian labour force with post-secondary education is very low and
recruitment into public service, particularly in the smaller countries, is
frequently done directly from the school system. The admission requirements to
the tertiary colleges vary somewhat but are generally 4 or 5 CXC or GCE
O levels with some additional conditions.
Since independence, each decade has seen a very significant
increase in student numbers and, necessary as this is, there have been problems.
In some countries there are powerful statements about the low success levels and
the poor quality of some programmes. For example, in Jamaica, mathematics and
physics are reported to suffer greatly from an extreme shortage of qualified
For most of the West Indies, education, particularly higher
education, remains at a premium, and less than 1 % of the labour force are
University graduates. Despite a population of over five million in the region,
UWI has a student body numbering only 12 000 and this has only very recently
been achieved. The numbers compare poorly with Latin America and South-East
Asia, for example, and the comparison is particularly bad for the sciences and
The shortage of middle-level technical and managerial manpower
is a major constraint and so, too, is the scarcity of postgraduate and
specialist level personnel needed to provide leadership and innovation, to
ensure the efficient use of recent graduates, to aid in the transfer of
technology, and to develop appropriate technologies. Training at this level is
also inadequate. The need for more postgraduate training is felt particularly in
the science-based and management disciplines where there is good correlation
between the ability to advance scientific knowledge or to manage, and to use
technology to generate national wealth.
The shortage of qualified personnel in the Caribbean is
exacerbated by continuing migration. While the demand for education and
training, both formal and informal, is large and continues to grow, expansion
programmes are severely constrained by restricted finances and limited manpower.
This must lead in some countries to a weakened capacity to generate new jobs,
which in turn compounds the difficulties in retaining many of the best minds.
There is general agreement that all levels of the Caribbean
education system require urgent attention, and the concern is how to manage the
limited financial and human resources to maximise the efforts now being made and
planned. In all this UWI must play a pivotal role.
The University of the West Indies
UWI is one of the only two regional universities worldwide. It
is the successor institution to the University College of the West Indies (UCWI)
which began teaching in 1948, in special relationship with the University of
London, when 33 medical students entered the Mona campus, Jamaica. In the
following year the Faculty of Natural Sciences admitted its first students and
one year later the Faculty of Arts followed. UWI was designed as a very small
elite school situated in Jamaica to serve the then perceived regional needs for
medical doctors, teachers and the public service.
With independence, there were new opportunities and demands and
the need for expansion was soon obvious. The former Imperial College of Tropical
Agriculture at St. Augustine, Trinidad, became the site of the second campus in
1960. UCWI became the University of the West Indies in 1962, and the third
campus, Cave Hill in Barbados, was established in 1963.
Table 2 shows the growth of student numbers. The breakdown by
campus for 1989/90 is Mona - 5769; St. Augustine - 4166; Cave Hill 2264.
Table 2: Student numbers at UWI
These numbers illustrate the growth of student numbers and also
emphasise the increasing significance of women in higher education. The
percentage of female students overall is now 55% and there is every indication
that this will continue to grow.
One consequence is that females greatly outnumber males at the
secondary level in the teaching profession.
UWI now has eight faculties: Agriculture, Arts and General
Studies, Education, Engineering, Law, Natural Sciences, Medical Sciences, and
Social Sciences. There is considerable specialisation between campuses:
Agriculture and Engineering are taught exclusively in Trinidad, and the second
and third years of the Law degree in Barbados. Pre-clinical medicine is taught
both in Jamaica and Trinidad, and Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine in Trinidad.
Hotel Management and Tourism are taught in the Bahamas.
All the faculties prepare students for higher degrees including
the Ph.D. Some masters degrees are by course work only, but others involve a
considerable research element. Most postgraduate students are from the region
but there is the desire to attract students from other countries.
In general the research patterns reflect the same
specialisations but much effort is being made to encourage cross-campus and
inter-faculty collaboration to strengthen the research base in areas such as
agriculture, natural resources and environmental studies.
Continuing education has always been an important portfolio and
is now receiving even more attention. The UWIDITE system, an interactive audio
network supported by limited video, presently links the university centres in
nine of the 14 contributing countries. This has made a great difference in
providing credit and non-credit programmes across the Caribbean by allowing the
beneficiaries to benefit without having to travel to a campus country. The
provision of courses to teachers and trainers is particularly noteworthy. There
are immediate plans for an upgrading and expansion of the UWIDITE system, both
in technology and programmes to allow all the supporting territories to benefit
and to place additional sites in the larger and/or multi-island states: UWIDITE
will have a very significant effect on aspects of education.
UWI is involved in one way or other in most aspects of Caribbean
education and particularly in teacher training. The University is becoming the
hub of a network of the tertiary institutions and already the state colleges in
the Bahamas, St. Lucia and Antigua are preparing students for UWI credits. This
is expected to increase and it is expected, for example, that the Faculty of
Agriculture will shortly assume close links with the various agricultural
colleges of the region.
To support UWIs outreach efforts, Offices of University
services serve the non-campus countries. The Office in Cave Hill has a
responsibility for the Eastern Caribbean states; the one in Mona deals with the
The financing of UWI
The university is funded through a University Grants Committee,
and a Campus Grants Committee for each of the three campuses. The contributing
governments pay by the number of students admitted on a per capita basis. Before
1984 the costs of students were averaged across faculties and campuses but since
then, costs of students for each campus are calculated separately. These costs
do not include indentifiable expenditures on research on special projects which
are funded separately. The total budgets attributable to the governments, in
millions of Jamaican dollars for 1989/90 are: Cave Hill: 125.311; Mona: 135.708;
St. Augustine: 109.654. Total: 370.673.
The need for expansion
To date UWI has graduated 35 000 students - not a large number
when the Caribbean population is considered. A large expansion of the
undergraduate programme would require also the expansion of good education at
the primary and secondary levels. But at present the applicants to UWI far
exceed the number which can be accepted; in some areas the ratio of applicants
to acceptances is as high as four or five to one. The need for additional
educational opportunities at the tertiary level seems obvious. This cannot be
met by UWI alone nor indeed is it likely to be met solely by conventional
educational systems. The hub concept and UWIDITE are capable of real
contributions but a great deal more will be necessary to meet the demands which
the increasing population and the requirements of the next century will place on
The role of the university
UWI is expected to do much more than serve the needs of the
region for higher education. It is expected also to: contribute to the growth of
knowledge and national and regional development; provide services of various
types; and point the way to innovative solutions of problems.
One major priority of UWI is the application of science and
technology to find appropriate solutions to the needs of the region. These
efforts will include the development of science and enterprise parks in
collaboration with the private sector. While the human resources available in
the region for research is presently quite inadequate, UWI does possess
significant staff resources and infrastructure in science, agriculture, and
engineering. Collaboration with UWI is becoming more and more accepted and the
Government of Jamaicas recent Science Policy document states: Thus
effort will be made to harness the potential of university staff and their
research students to produce data, methods, and information aimed at
contributing to national development, and simultaneously to train personnel for
continued development. Support will be given to the university to obtain funding
for programmes, particularly those with regional impact.
The governments appreciate the important role of the University
and remain convinced that the regional nature of the institution should be
preserved. Moreover, it must do so in a cost-efficient manner because the region
as a whole is finding it increasingly difficult to finance even the basic needs
of its people.
UWI has already made an enormous contribution to the region
during its 42 years of existence. It has produced professionals of all types:
teachers, medical doctors and support staff, clergy, lawyers, managers and staff
of vital institutions including CARICOM; members of government including
ministers and prime ministers and many others. Yet the conditions of the
Caribbean are such that the job has really just begun. There is now a remarkable
window of opportunity for UWI. If the University and the region it serves,
including governments and the private sector, can rise to the challenge, it will
truly continue, as the theme of its 40th anniversary celebrations puts it, to
make a world of difference.