The Ministry of Education and the University College of the Cayman Islands Board of Governors remain at loggerheads over control of programming at the campus, and it appears they will likely remain so until a ruling by the solicitor general on the matter.
The board of governors sent a letter last week to the solicitor general asking for a clarification regarding a conflict between the wording of the University College Law and language the ministry would like to include in its most recent purchase agreement with the college.
In an email late Friday, the ministry’s chief officer Christen Suckoo said the board is attempting to remove language from the purchase agreement that has traditionally been included. The passage in question requires approval from the ministry for any program changes the college wishes to make.
“Removal of the clause and the underlying implication of the board’s position – being that the board should be able to unilaterally decide what the cabinet is purchasing from it – is the real issue that needs to be addressed,” Mr. Suckoo wrote.
The board of governors says such an arrangement not only contradicts its authority as laid out in the University College Law, but would hamstring the college’s efforts to pursue international accreditation. Accrediting bodies insist on colleges and universities having autonomy over such matters, the board says.
Previous purchase agreements have said program offerings “are not to be amended (neither added nor removed) without the express consent of the ministry, which is to be sought through formal proposal through the board of governors.”
According to board member Tom Simpson, the board brought up concerns over this arrangement at the beginning of the year. In April, Mr. Simpson said via email, board chairman Lemuel Hurlston sent Mr. Suckoo a letter outlining the board’s position.
“Ownership and purchase agreements cannot be so specific that they effectively amend the [University College Law] to give the power of approval to the minister with respect to those board decisions and powers clearly set out in the UCL,” the letter read.
Last modified in 2012, the University College Law outlines the oversight role of the Ministry of Education, but appears to give it no specific programming control. It says the board has the power “to create or abolish such departments or academic programmes within the college as the board may consider necessary or expedient.”
Mr. Simpson said the ministry never responded to Mr. Hurlston’s letter.
When the purchase agreement for 2018 and 2019 was submitted in September, it did not include the language regarding program approval that had been in previous agreements. The agreement was approved by the ministry, the cabinet and the Legislative Assembly.
“It wasn’t until Dec. 5 that Ministry staff requested several further amendments to the purchase agreement, including putting back in the problematic language,” Mr. Simpson said.
A meeting between Mr. Hurlston and Mr. Suckoo failed to resolve the matter, he said.
The government provides $4 million of the $7.5 million annual budget of the college. Recent figures were not readily available, but the government spent $2.9 million on local scholarships in 2009-2010, most of which was used by UCCI students.
Even if the language is included in the budget document, Mr. Suckoo contends the college enjoys an adequate amount of autonomy. He said the purchase agreement “by necessity must reflect the portion of UCCI programming that the Government expects to be delivered and is funding.”
Mr. Hurlston said he would not comment until the solicitor general has rendered a decision on the matter.
Board members have argued that the degree of control the ministry wants to exert would prohibit the school from meeting the necessary standards required for international accreditation from a recognized agency.
“A principal purpose of UCCI is to confer university degrees that are recognized internationally by employers and other universities for students continuing their studies,” Mr. Simpson said. “In the Western world, degrees are recognized to have the required value if awarded by higher education institutions that are self-governing.”
The University College Law, he said recognizes that.
“The board should not be compelled by contract,” he added, “to delegate a UCL statutory power or duty to the ministry.”