“I come from the private sector, and if somebody came to me with an associate degree, I’m really not going to pay much attention. I’m looking for at least a bachelor’s. I’m really looking for a master’s. An associate degree in this day and age is pretty much meaningless.”
— Sheree Ebanks, former UCCI board chairwoman
Can you handle the truth?
Some people in the Cayman Islands apparently cannot, as evidenced by the visceral and vicious responses to a frank assessment of the associate degree program at the University College of the Cayman Islands by board chairwoman Sheree Ebanks, who resigned from her position last week.
The public backlash was not the reason for the departure of Ms. Ebanks, who resigned because she believed her UCCI board position conflicted with her role as CEO of the Cayman Islands Society of Professional Accountants.
Nonetheless, the cascades of sour notes (mixed in with some sour grapes) marring her exit were unwarranted, misguided and uncalled for.
Ms. Ebanks’s matter-of-fact comment was derived from her own professional experience in Cayman, and accords with UCCI’s “Towards a Viable UCCI” report, which states, “There is no good evidence that there exists any labor market demand within Cayman for employees who are trained only with an associate degree in business … [They] offer nothing that our students might later use as a career advantage.” The report recommends eliminating the two-year associate business degrees altogether.
Even so, we would not denigrate the initiative that young Caymanians exhibit in enrolling in UCCI’s associate degree program, or, for that matter, any post-secondary educational pursuits. That already places them ahead of many of their classmates graduating from local high schools.
Putting that aside, we’re not sure why Ms. Ebanks’s statement caused the uproar that it did. From our perspective in the private sector, UCCI’s associate business degrees comprise only a sample of the “undervalued” degrees offered by UCCI.
Now, this comment is not intended to reflect negatively on UCCI’s students or teachers, but is an allusion to UCCI’s lack of accreditation as a higher education institution. As far as businesses (especially off-island) are concerned, it wouldn’t make a difference if faculty members included Albert Einstein, Adam Smith and Socrates, in the absence of external validation of UCCI’s worth.
On this most fundamental front, we (and the UCCI administration, we’re sure) eagerly await the results of UCCI’s application before the U.K.-based Accreditation Service for International Schools, Colleges and Universities, which sent an inspector to the Grand Cayman campus earlier this month. At the time, the inspector said his organization’s decision would be made known by around April 1.
While we have defended Ms. Ebanks’s statement on associate degrees, we disagree with the entire direction of UCCI’s “viability report” — that is, toward a reduction in operations and budget.
On the contrary, we would argue that the way forward for UCCI should be one of enhancement, expansion and growth. The opening up of the board chairmanship and the possible accreditation of UCCI could, amid a renewed public focus on education in Cayman, provide the opportunity that UCCI needs to re-imagine and re-establish itself as Cayman’s premier provider of higher learning.
Though UCCI is just now on the cusp of meaningful accreditation, the Cayman government’s experiment in tertiary education has been going on for 40 years. The time is ripe for a metamorphosis of mission at UCCI, which will only be possible with the assurance of full funding and strengthened support from our elected officials and community leaders.
If our public sector cannot transform UCCI into the flagship educational institution that Cayman needs and deserves, the only other rational alternative, we submit, is for government to get out of the business of college altogether and to pursue the relevant policy goals by devoting those resources elsewhere.