Point and Counter Point: UB twelve years later

The University of Belize (UB) turned twelve this year, having been established as the country’s national university in 2000.

As 2012 comes to an end I thought it would be appropriate for us a nation to reflect on where this institution is heading in light of where it has come from over the last dozen or so years.

One of the questions that could help to guide our reflections is this: what progress has the national university made towards its mission after twelve years of state and non-state funding?  Another would be: What do we know now, and what more do we need to find out, before we can make an informed judgment on how best we can all contribute to make this institution the sort of place we all dreamed it could become especially for our youths and young adults to grow, to become and to be?

My thoughts on these questions, and some of the other related questions they raise, is the subject of this column.

We know that regardless of the current vision, the two interrelated goals of UB as a tertiary level education provider remains that of any public university anywhere in the world.  As Gordon Wells has pointed out, these are, first, to ensure cultural continuity through the transmission to each new generation of Belizeans of artifacts (intellectual, social and cultural) which embody the achievement of the past, both local and global.  Secondly, to enable individual students to appropriate these artifacts and to transform the associated knowledge and practices into a resource that both empowers them personally and enables them to contribute to the solution of problems facing the country in innovative ways.  Progress must be judged against the extent to which UB is performing these two basic functions.

We also know that one the challenges of the past, that seems  to persist even today, is that of taking responsibility.

Though our PM, as the statutory head of UB, has always taken full responsibility for ensuring that the university receives the state’s contribution of the institution’s annual financing, he has for the most part always divested the responsibility of overseeing the growth and development of the university to the his Minister of Education. In the last twelve years Musa divested to Hyde and Fonseca and Barrow to Patrick Faber,  who in turn pass on that responsibility to the Chairman of the UB Board of Trustees – Hyde to Evan X, Fonseca to Dr. Zabaneh, and Faber to Fairweather.

Hence UB’s current and past growth and development has always been hinged on the Chairman’s vision of the role of the national university in the sustainable development of the country.

Regrettably, past and present Chairmen’s vision for the university have never been publicly articulated, and we in the public domain have had little basis on which to appropriate and make sense of the contributions the university is making to national development in a comprehensive manner.

Until we can get a Chairman to break with tradition, the question will continue to be: should the state and the private sector radically increase their financing, and oversights, of the university?

Some of the things that we, the public need to know from our current Chairman, should she see sense in breaking the traditions of the past to make such a decision and, hopefully, for us to become more directly involved in this process on the side of the university, includes:

•  What is the current budget of the university and how in general categories is that budget appropriated?

•  What is the student enrollment by program and what strands of national development each of the programs are targeting and how close or far are we from those targets?  For example I recently read a UN report claiming that the percentage of trained teachers in our schools has dropped from 64% to 48% over the last ten years.  The question is what specifically is the university doing to reverse this downward trend?

•  What is the academic and administrative profile of the faculty and staff including the faculty’s teaching, service and especially its research agendas?

•  What is the strategic vision (the 20/20 vision) of the university over the next eight years, that is, what will the university become in the next eight years, by 2020?

•  What have been some of major successes and challenges of the national institution over the past eight years?  Here eight years is arbitrary and was chosen simply to match the eight-year strategic projections.

•  In what specific ways would the university be able to do more, and better, its critical functions of national development if it got more money allocated from the national purse and from the non-state sectors?

These are just a few of the questions that I think, if answered satisfactorily would help to remind the public of the usefulness of our national university, strengthen the links between the constituents served and the university, and further embed the national university in the psyche of the nation as a mode of action for national development.

At the same time, it may also assist our national leaders, in both the private and public sectors, and our strategic international partners including the EU, to reconsider how they may increase funding and other material support for this critical institution, as one of the major partners in the sustainable development of the country.

This having been said, it would be nice to hear further from you, the readers, your point and counter on this vital matter.

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