The English-speaking Caribbean is a low-wage market of which Jamaica is the worst based on its GDP per capita and the size of that low-wage labour force. While the Government of Jamaica has substantially increased the salaries of members of the political directorate, principals of schools and colleges and senior civil servants, the salaries of most members of the public sector as well as minimum wage earners, remain low.
Low wages are largely a function of qualification and the quality of jobs in an economy and both affect the citizens’ quality of life. People with higher qualification are not only positioned to demand better paying jobs but to create such jobs. The relationship between qualifications and quality of life invites the question of “how?” How does an economy and society produce more highly qualified citizens?
The role of the university
The 2021 UNESCO Commission Report on the Futures of Education, published under the title Reimagining our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education underscores the critical importance of aligning education systems with the major challenges facing society. According to the report, these include issues of inequality, poverty and social exclusion, democratic backsliding, challenges to human rights, climate change and the challenges created by artificial intelligence.
If education must answer the call to solve the most challenging problems facing society, then that call is being made largely, though not exclusively, to the university. Commenting on the UNESCO Report Reimagining our Futures Together, Harvard University scholar Fernando Reimers, Director of the Global Education Innovation Initiative at Harvard University notes that the word “universities” appears in every chapter. He argues that this suggests that universities have a major role to play in shaping this reimagined future.
If universities have a major role to play in creating a new future in which we overcome poverty, social exclusion, and inequity, among other ills, then the pathway to making an effective assault on these ills, is by ensuring that larger numbers of people get access to university education; but not just any and any university education, but one that equips them to wrestle with the vagaries and complexities of their context and devise relevant solutions to address the challenges encountered.
Levels of tertiary participation
One of the major problems faced by Caribbean countries is low levels of participation in tertiary education, which is largely an issue of access and is related to funding. But if most Caribbean citizens are to experience improved quality of life, and if public policy is to serve to advance social well-being and happiness, yes, happiness, then governments of the region must commit to ensuring greater access to tertiary education.
Let us look at some examples of the levels of tertiary participation among Caribbean countries and then examine, by looking at some examples across the globe, what levels of tertiary participation means for development. The first table shows that although Jamaica seated the first campus of The University of the West Indies (in 1948), established the College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST), now the University of Technology (UTECH), in 1957, and is home to several Teachers’ Colleges, it has a low level of tertiary participation at 27%. This is a mere two percentage points higher than Belize which does not have a landed campus, as well as Antigua and Barbuda which only recently had a landed campus of The UWI. Jamaica’s low 27% tertiary participation is dwarfed by Barbados’ and Trinidad and Tobago’s 65%.
JAMAICA’S TERTIARY PARTICIPATION RATE COMPARED TO SAMPLE OF CARIBBEAN COUNTRIES
|Country||Level of Tertiary Participation|
|Antigua and Barbuda||25%|
|Trinidad & Tobago||65%|
The central question is: what do levels of tertiary participation mean? The table below compares Jamaica to a few randomly selected countries in different regions of the world. The data show a strong positive correlation between tertiary participation and GDP, GDP per capita, and innovation, and an inverse relationship between level of tertiary participation and crime, specifically the murder rate.
WHAT INCREASING TERTIARY PARTICIPATION MEANS – EXAMINING SOME CORRELATIONS
|Country||Pop||GDP 2019 USD (rounded)||GDP P.C. USD||Tertiary Participation Rate (2021)||Murder rate Per 100k 2021 or 22||Global Innovation Index|
A proposed policy on funding higher education
Reimers’ argument that the university is the key tool in transforming our future suggests that radical new ways must be found to create access to tertiary education. Higher education institutions globally and locally are facing existential crises. These crises began around 2008 during the global recession and were worsened by the 2020 C-19 pandemic. Some institutions have closed, others have merged, and many continue to struggle. The UWI, the Caribbean’s regional university, as well as national universities face major financial crises. The survival and turnaround of the fortunes of these institutions will require both internal / operational reorganization as well as external funding that is more sustainable. Using The UWI and Jamaica as examples, I wish to propose a model for improving the funding to The UWI (Mona).
Let us begin with some headline numbers which I will use as a basis for proposing some short, medium-term, and long-term solutions for the sustainable funding of tertiary education.
- The government of Jamaica (GoJ) support for the tertiary sector has averaged about $20B in the last five years.
- Estimates done by various stakeholders indicate that to properly fund the sector some $40B is needed annually. The policy principles which inform the allocation of $20B (or the $40B being proposed) is a matter for separate discussion, except to say a formula which includes allocations to support research, tuition, capital development, and emoluments would need to be determined.
- A key issue then becomes, how could that additional $20B be raised. I propose a mix of FIVE solutions for consideration by government as follows, to include the necessary legislation to achieve these:
- Increase funding to the sector by $5B each year for the next five years, with annual increases each year thereafter being pegged to inflation or about 5% p.a. (Recall that $5B is one half of 1% of the budget and will become less than one half of 1% with each succeeding year). That $5B would have a provision to fund a $600M (per annum) Child Opportunity Trust Fund (COT Fund). This will be discussed here subsequently.
- Engage the financial sector and persuade them to contribute 1% per annum of their annual profits ($1B) to support tertiary education over the next five years.
- Tap the NHT to secure $15B over 5 years.
- Direct, with the 50% of the $50B funds held in dormant accounts
- Directing a total of $2B each year, combined, from Human Employment and Resource Training Trust/National Training Agency (HEART/NTA), Tourism EnhancementFund (TEF), Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE), Universal Access Fund Company Ltd. (UAF).
Child Opportunity Trust Fund
The idea of a “Child Opportunity Trust Fund”, was first articulated in Jamaica, by then MP Basil Waite in 2008. The administrative and tactical elements of the solution consist of a partnership among the family, the government, and the private sector. But the moral imperative and the vision of the idea is based on the conviction that we must act to ensure that more students have access to tertiary education, and we cannot afford not to respond to the urgent call to take radical steps to create the conditions for a better society.
This COT Fund involves government setting aside, each year, a sum equivalent to USD$100 in the name of each child born the previous year, and leaving that fund to grow for 18 years, tax free and with minimum management fees from the bank, and a parental contribution equivalent to JMD $100 per day over the 18 years.
Using this approach based on an assumed annual 40,000 births, and the USD: JMD exchange rate of 1:150, the annual investment by Government would be $600M. $600M is 0.6% of 1% of the budget.
When that sum is invested for 18 years at a net interest rate of 6% p.a., and with approximately 40,000 parents contributing $36,000 per year or $1.44B over the period, the yield after 18 years would be $46B (See Future Value Table). If that $46B is evenly divided among the 40,000 children, the amount per child is $1.6M. This $1.6M would give each child a great start towards tertiary education or initially supervised entrepreneurial undertakings.
The way forward
If citizens of Jamaica, and the Caribbean, are to experience sustained and sustainable improvement in their quality of life, Governments must invest more in tertiary education. With the levels of tertiary participation in Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago being comparable to most developed countries, their task will be to sustain those levels and expand their economic development initiatives. For the rest of the Caribbean, there must be massive investments and improved access. The tertiary institutions must also make programme changes to ensure that their offerings are more in line with national and regional development goals and objectives. This means that governments and leaders of tertiary institutions must come together to discuss what are the areas governments need the tertiary institutions to prioritize. There appears to be a disconnect between governments and tertiary institutions which must be overcome to achieve development.
Professor Canute Thompson is Professor of Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership at the School of Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and Head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning. He is author of two award-winning books and articles, among his collection of eight books and over a dozen journal articles, and the operator of leadershipreimagination.com website.