100 Persons, 100 and more ideas to deal with Higher Education Issues in the Caribbean and Latin America
It was hailed as a Caribbean Conference on Higher Education, a follow up to one held four years before in Paramaribo, Suriname. It attracted more than 100 participants from English, Dutch, French and Spanish-speaking territories including Anguilla, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Spain, St. Maarten , Trinidad & Tobago, Venezuela and the USA. Representatives from Ministries of Education and Embassies, from international and regional bodies and from Higher Education Institutes, all came to Jamaica with the firm intent of producing concrete plans of action for the Caribbean and Latin America with regard to Higher Education financing, quality assurance and recognition, as well as the value, impact and management of research.
Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (The UWI), Professor E. Nigel Harris, drew the parallel between the University’s regional reach and the geographic spread of conference participants. It emphasized, he said, the need to ‘leap across barriers of language and culture’ to embrace a common history and allow for effective collaboration. The challenges encountered in the Caribbean are also evident in the rest of the world with larger numbers of young people unable to find jobs. ‘The educated unemployed‘, he said, ‘are often the foot soldiers of unrest‘.
Dr Franklyn Johnston, Senior Adviser in Jamaica’s Ministry of Education, applauded the conference for its timeliness, with special regard to one of the conference’s main themes – financing. Access to higher education by a disadvantaged population is a key factor in moving out of indebtedness. He also noted that duplication existed among the campuses so that rationalization with intellectual integrity is an imperative. In tandem with that is the research and development necessary to transform entrepreneurial ventures into collateral jobs.
UNESCO/IESALC and the UNESCO Caribbean Cluster Office had partnered with the Latin American-Caribbean Centre of The UWI to stage the conference. Dr Pedro Henríquez, Director of UNESCO-IESALC in Caracas spoke about the unprecedented growth in higher education worldwide with global enrolments increasing five-fold. He expressed concern about the lack of fulfilment of agreements signed in Paramaribo during the First Caribbean Conference on Higher Education (CCHE1) by institutions and member states and recommended regularly held policy debates to follow up on such agreements. Dr Henríquez urged Caribbean nations to agree on standards for quality assurance and recognition. IESALC, he said, is currently preparing a consultation at governmental level for a Latin America and Caribbean regional position on the 1974 UNESCO Agreement on Recognition of Studies, Titles and Diplomas.
Francisco Marmolejo, Lead Tertiary Education Specialist at the World Bank, engaged his audience on the issues and trends in tertiary education and implications for the Caribbean, setting the tone for conference discussions. Student protests in Chile and Greece about financing and lack of opportunities may seem far from Kingston, Jamaica but in this increasingly interdependent world, there are often implications at home. ‘Knowledge’, he pointed out, ‘makes the difference between poverty and wealth’. Yet, in the list of post millennium development goals, higher education is not mentioned at all. Marmalejo identified the World Bank’s 10 top ‘do’s’ in tertiary education, including levelling the playing field, diversifying options, assurance of quality institutions, equitable and affordable education and training, programmes that yield high social returns and fostering openness and an evidence-based culture in tertiary education.
Conference organizers are currently deliberating on an action plan, to emanate from conference discussions and recommendations in the three sub-theme areas so as to foster a concerted regional agenda in the higher education sector. This would include a glossary to assist in arriving at consensus on a common language that can facilitate the mutual recognition of diplomas and titles and a harmonised regional system of higher education. Emphasis was also laid on the importance of research and development as a tool for development and building capacity to manage the research enterprise and transfer results for purposes of development. Underpinning these activities is the urgent need for the higher education sector to develop comprehensive, realistic strategies for revenue generation and resource mobilisation and the appointment of the appropriate teams to engage in such activities. The plan will substantiate the II CCHE Kingston Declaration on Higher Education.