Higher education: Towards a more visionary UCCI

The recently released report, “Towards a Viable UCCI,” is admirable in its intent but limited in its scope. When it comes to higher education in Cayman, the watchword should be vision, not viability.

Nevertheless, we applaud University College of the Cayman Islands President Roy Bodden and his joint study team — led by Linford Pierson and composed of UCCI board members, administration and faculty — for their efforts and intentions.

The team took a long look at UCCI’s balance sheets, survey results and other data, and then made several recommendations — including eliminating courses, programs and salaried staff — that altogether could save UCCI $500,000 per year, out of its annual budget of approximately $7 million (about $4 million of which is provided directly by Cabinet).

It is entirely appropriate — in fact, desirable — for any organization to undertake internally instigated examinations of costs and possible cost savings. We find no fault in the study team’s methodologies or its conclusions.

Our issue with the UCCI report, frankly, is more fundamental. It relates to UCCI’s $7 million annual budget.

Considering UCCI’s mission as our country’s “flagship” institute of higher learning, we are woefully underfunding it.

It isn’t often that we find ourselves arguing for greater government spending, but in the context of the public sector’s total budget of $744 million (including $9.5 million for the Cayman Turtle Farm, $20 million-plus for Cayman Airways, and $1.5 million for the Cayman Islands Development Bank), UCCI’s annual budget — less than 1 percent of total government spending — could be described as a mere pittance. Heavens, the new campus of Clifton Hunter High School cost more than $100 million to construct and millions more to maintain.

By comparison, the UCCI campus is, well, not necessarily a dump but certainly a neglected educational sibling.

This UCCI report focuses on the need to preserve, hopefully even strengthen, the status quo. The report provides cogent insights into UCCI’s financial operations. However, what is really needed is a high-level assessment of where, and how, UCCI fits into the overall educational needs of the Cayman Islands.

Before officials begin to eviscerate UCCI in the interest of saving a few nickels, dimes or even a half-million dollars, we should contemplate the following simple but nonetheless fundamental question: As an educational institution, what should UCCI be?

Unlike public consultation on, say, the minimum wage, the issue of tertiary education in Cayman might really be worth a town hall meeting or two.

We applaud President Roy Bodden’s total commitment to UCCI. His passion for the school and its students, many of whom he knows by first name, is palpable. He is an historian of note, a prolific author, a former politician, and, by nature of his position, the islands’ pre-eminent educator. What remains to be seen is whether he has the drive, or even the desire, to elevate UCCI to a higher level.

Lacking resources, reputation, even basic accreditation, UCCI is nowhere near where it needs to be. And it’s never going to get there solely through budget cuts. UCCI needs to be more, not less.

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  1. No college in the world survives targeting only local high schools and seeking only government funding. There was a time UCCI aspired to bring students in from the region (instead of exporting them) and to partner with major donors by levering its diverse and highly-educated faculty. Those aspirations died as the immediacy of provincial political interests and personalities deterred visionaries and benefactors from rescuing this institution. We were told Appearances are everything. To politicians, perhaps so; for substantive progress, clearly not.

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  2. If some of that 200 Million dollars spent on High Schools went towards improving the College. They may have become a truly accredited university and attracted students from all over the region.

    I just cannot understand why so much was spent on high schools while ignoring higher education in the Cayman Islands. Caymanian students could have had the option of getting a degree from an accredited college on their home soil, instead of having to bear the cost of going overseas.

    Another example of choices made buy the CIG that make no sense.

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  3. Ginnie is right. All the points she raised are critical — but government subsidy is not mutually exclusive with regard to the other contributors to growth and development. Where it is necessary, government subsidy must be forthcoming — as this editorial so well pointed out, we have money-making government authorities that are struggling and whose contributions are deemed important enough for subsidies in multiples of what UCCI receives. How can education be regarded as less important? Most countries place education at the top of priorities along with health — and money — er lack of money– speaks.

    So I thank the Compass for this excellent contribution to the debate.

    At the same time, UCCI needs to leverage the ideas of faculty such as Ginnie Gardner (among many others) to develop UCCI into the first class university that it should be for the people of these islands.

    UCCI has suffered as the poor relation of education, again as this editorial opines, for too long. It would be sad if what is the only viable option for tertiary level education for many Caymanians languish on the ashes of limited visions and visionaries.

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  4. The most amazing thing to me in this article is not the underfunding and the need of higher educational opportunities here, but the fact that a country of 60,000 persons has an annual budget of 744 million –if that’s CI, then it’s 907 million USD which is 15,000 USD per person! The US (pop of 330 million persons) just asked for a 4 trillion dollar budget which is 12,000 USD per person. Much of that money is for the armed forces, homeland security, NSA, social security, etc! Where is all the money going on Cayman??

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  5. Just one final point: the United States, the most enterprising, profit-sensitive country in the world has just made community college education free for all Americans — that represents a huge, huge government subsidy. Costa Rica provides free tertiary-level education to as far as its citizens want to take it. and Costa Ricans are said to be at the very top of the happiness index worldwide.

    Government subsidy for education is not a stigma — and in the context of government-controlled pricing (on UCCI’s tuition fees), iadequate funding is not only fair but essential.

    This is not to say that UCCI should not be working all the options — private donors, expansion of its student source areas, etc. All of these opportunities to enable it to offer a first-class education should be explored — and secured.

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  6. You are right, Mr. Davis, it is all about priorities and we do reap accordingly.

    Notwithstanding my hope that I had said my last piece, I though I would share some findings about Costa Rica, a country that really is not rich by any means but one that got its priorities In order. An outstanding example of that humanitarian approach was exemplified in the political stance of a former president of that country who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the Albert Scweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism and awarded doctorates and other forms of recognition from some of the most preeminent universities in the world.

    Dr. Arias (he earned that in his own right) in 2009 at a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in a speech themed We have been doing somethings wrong decried latin .America’s lack of development compared to other parts of the world. He called for more pragmatism and more resources directed at education. (See http://www.en.m.wikipedia.org)

    Today, according to http://www.internations.org, Costa Rica includes in its Constitution that the government allocated a minimum of 8% of its GDP annually to education. I read somewhere that that translates into 30% of its annual budget. As a result, according to this website and other reports, Costa Rica boasts the most advanced and highest quality of education in Latin America.

    As a result of this investment in its people, higher education is affordable, says http://www.justlanded.com, at around US200 per year and scholarships are available. It further adds that direct payments by students in public universities make up less than 10% of the (public) universities’ budgets. And, by the way, the standard of education among the government-funded public universities in Costa Rica is regarded to be better than that countries’ private universities, which are also subsidized by their government.

    How is that for priorities?

    It is clear that we are also doing something’s wrong and it would be very sad to allow a further disintegration rather than buildimg on what has been achieved so far.

    We need all hands and minds aboard. This may very well be a watershed moment for the Cayman Islands.

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