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No cutting corners with new campus

Sunday, February 27, 2011

In principle, the Government is to be commended and congratulated for its decision to expand the tertiary-level opportunities available to students of this country, and possibly others, seeking to improve their life prospects. Therefore, the official land dedication ceremony for the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, south campus in Debe, which was held at the Debe High School on Thursday, was an auspicious occasion in the country’s history as it signals the willingness of the Government to continue the policy of past administrations in placing a high priority on education.

As Professor Clement Sankat, the principal of the St Augustine campus of the UWI, pointed out at the ceremony, the enrolment of students at the institution had grown from 7,000 to 17,000 between 2000 and 2010. And this does not take into consideration the number of locals who are receiving tertiary-level education at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, at other local universities or nationals who are receiving their university education in foreign countries. The main impetus for the expansion of tertiary-level opportunities in T&T was the decision by former Prime Minister Patrick Manning to introduce free tertiary education in January 2006, some two years before it was scheduled to come on stream, as a result of the inflow of revenue from Atlantic LNG.

The expansion of the T&T campus of the UWI is crucial for the country because it faces a future in which it will be required to rely more on the intellectual capacity of its citizens than the ability of the Government to extract rents from the foreign multinationals who extract T&T’s mineral wealth. One of the key drivers of T&T’s competitiveness in the future is going to be not only the number of its secondary school graduates who go on to university education, but in the quality of that education—especially as it relates to the jobs of the future and the ability of graduates to create their own jobs through their enterprise and entrepreneurship.

So, this newspaper wholeheartedly endorses the drive by the Government to expand the university and its location in south Trinidad, the home of many of this country’s current and future scholars. At this point, we do not subscribe to the overly cynical position outlined by an opposition politician, himself a graduate of the UWI and someone who spent some years of his working life there, that the Government was attempting to establish a campus in Debe “because of the demography of the student population without discussion or agreement with the other parties in the University of the West Indies.” Where there may be some concern is in the perception that the Government and the UWI appear to want to place the construction of the southern campus on a fast track.

As was noted at the ceremony, there is an anticipation that the first phase of the southern campus will be completed and ready to accept its first students, who it is envisaged will be budding attorneys, by August 2013. This ambitious deadline of 30 months was given even though the procurement process has not started, no work has been done in the preparation of the site and there is no indication of the amount of money the Government proposes to spend on this project. As we have had cause to warn previously, the Government should be guided by the previous administration’s experiences of attempting to fast track the construction of the cricket stadium in Tarouba.

While we expect a speedy procurement process in keeping with the mandate outlined by the officials at the ceremony, there should be no cutting of corners, either in the procurement process or in the quality of the workmanship at this institution of higher learning.


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