10° 40' N, 61° 30' W

Thursday, October 24, 2002

I read in yesterday's Trinidad Express about Manning's proposed University of Trinidad and Tobago. The UTT is part of a plan to achieve 20 percent of the population go through higher education by the year 2020 (the vision thing strikes again) up from the present 7 percent. I know am beginning to sound like a bit of a crank, but hasn't anyone read Alison Wolf's Does Education Matter? Or the numerous studies on how education has no strong relation to economic growth?

Cart before the horse again. Trinidad got mass secondary education in the 1970s, during the great oil boom, before there was a popular demand for it; now the promised (but still unrealised) natural-gas boom is to deliver mass (relatively speaking) university education as well. Education is a good thing--no nation of illiterates ever thrives--but given that education expenditure is increasingly regressive at each educational level, the government would be better to ensuring that everyone left primary school literate, and working its way up. The propensity of some parents to treat schools as a nine-month national babysitting programme has to change too.

Given the carping of so many University of the West Indies students and graduates about the shortcomings of the institution, one would also think that the resources would be better spent there. Today there was a student protest on security at the St. Augustine campus. Five years ago I witnessed a three-day campus shutdown triggered off by a murder. Security is one of may worries. A shortage of library books (a complaint of universities the world over, I know, but no less true for that), a haphazardly-put together campus, a dearth of research are all problems the UWI faces. Manning stresses his commitment to the UWI, though I have no idea waht that means.

The University is regional largely in name only. Save for engineering, law and agriculture, the campuses essentially serve as non-residential "finishing schools" for the local middle class. (The talented and the rich go abroad, of course.) I am generally against token initiatives, but one measure that would be interesting is enabling UWI students to spend at least part of their matriculation in another island. I suggest this less for regional understanding than as a means for inividual development. Unlike the middle classes of other places (mostly wealthier than the Caribbean, I admit, but digress) the West Indian middle class is largely stationary--the expense of inter-island travel makes for limited rite-of-passage wanderlust. I wish that UWI students were curious and interested enough to do this all on their own--consumer demand is a powerful thing. Sometimes, though, we could all use an incentive.