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Pride in industry

Barbados has long heralded the importance of education and its value-added worth in terms of advancing people. However, in a depressed economy the underestimation of the educational product becomes common; for many, it is more depressing to think in abstract terms when inevitability takes precedence over innovativeness.

In recent times, there appears to be some exacerbated strains between the investment costs and the effectiveness of reaping substantial returns in education. Too often, in a recessionary climate when it comes to education, the Government fails to find alternatives for meeting its financial and socio-economic obligations.

In fact, a typical example surrounds the Barbados Government and its handling of financial issues regarding the UWI. Professor Nigel Harris has bewailed the present administration’s approach when he revealed a stark reality that “the increasing shortfall and arrears in payments from the Barbados Government have impacted the finances of the university as a whole”. This is significant in terms of Barbados’ developmental goals.

Harris’ further points out that “given the leading role which Barbados plays in terms of advocacy at a regional level for the university and for tertiary level,” there is serious fallout from Government’s inability or “failure to pay” the accumulating debts which “would hurt the university”.

This is an eye-opener for the progressive; it is suggesting that business as usual by the Stuart-led Administration or any subsequent administration cannot be accommodated in a Barbados eager to reclaim much of its past glory.

The recent deference regarding the state’s obligations which, are being dismantled by an administrative that is too willing to hide in the corners of an international recession, the “worst that the world has seen in 100 years” exudes a sense of forlorn.

It is this dereliction that is gripping Barbadian society to the extent that short and medium-term plans by the Administration have become whimsical. The evidence has manifested in “attacks” on the approaches to educational financing and the prospects of curbing the objective of at least one graduate in every household. Cuts to education and reducing access to education cannot be the number one option for governmental reliance; governmental pressures on tertiary level education should not be the number one, two, or three responses to the challenges.

Barbados’ reputation for being a leading player in regional tertiary level education is interlinked with the country’s national pride. It is unequivocal that Barbados has been a nation known to fight above its body weight. Since Independence in 1966, successive governments and the society (i.e. perhaps up until recently) have tended to place this high premium of expectations as a source of strength and direction. The fortitude is to be drawn from Barbados’ most valuable resource — the tenacity and industry of the Barbadian people.

I am contending that there needs to be an internationalisation of education in Barbados that is characterised by a new culture of innovation and research. For the purpose of clarity, the internationalisation of higher education is about a burgeoning concept which presupposes the process of “integrating an international dimension into the teaching, research and service functions” of tertiary education and research in Barbados and the region. The internationalisation and liberalisation of education markets have been significant for many of the advanced countries.

Developed countries across the globe have long determined the magnitude of investment, technological innovation, and the inter-relationship that ensues with research driven outputs at all levels and sectors within an economy. This core is critical for development and for emerging from within the context of the current economic woes the country faces.

Given some of the political rhetoric coming from the seat of Government, it appears as if the state, at this time, sees itself as being incapable of determining new pathways or identifying creative energies that can release Barbados from the economic vice grip in which it finds itself. Why is this?

According to Sir Hilary Beckles, this severe laxity “has to do with the undeveloped nature of our culture of innovation — the impact that research has on development in terms of new ideas, new products, and new ways of generating value.”

Sir Hilary reasons that it has been “far too long” that Barbados has had a “heavy reliance on anecdotal judgement” regarding policy formulation “which was not grounded on solid research”. This professional assessment by Sir Hilary speaks to the “many distortions in the development of policies at both the public and private sector level.” The potentials of education and research-led policy arenas are tremendous and could be directed to being productive for the Barbados economy.

The challenge is to put an international and quality stamp on education; this is good practice for the polity and region as we individually and collectively pursue paths toward renewed economic growth and sustainable development. Barbados, alongside other CARICOM countries, has to work towards the productive and service utility embedded in the internationalisation of education.

From the perspective of asking serious questions as to what are those things that Barbados possesses, and that are likely to emerge as the main drivers of the Barbados economy in a post-recessionary period, the combination of an internationalisation of tertiary level education supported by the effective use of research-driven policy tools ought to become priority areas for both public and private engagement.

Rather than retreat, the Government of Barbados must find innovative ways for encouraging, facilitating, and financing education and research — these are critical investments for securing Barbados’ future. Barbados can reach a higher level of investment and enterprise led by the indigenous and spurred by the innovative regarding education and research.

Leader of the Opposition, Owen Arthur, has expressed the view that confronting Barbados is an atmosphere of economic morass occasioned by “current stagflation” and “underinvestment” impacting heavily on the national economy. Furthermore,

Arthur opines that Barbados’ economic growth needs to be regenerated with “broader diversity” in a mix of services. Why can education not be listed among the priority services that are marketed and sold to the world?

I am contending that Barbados’ education plant and infrastructure can achieve more for the economy and society with a focus on this internationalisation of education; the Government has to be a willing and able pilot. Public and private industry should be taking advantage of research-led enterprise and the expanse that comes through the “branding” of Barbados’ tertiary product as one geared towards a much wider international market.

The societal attitudes and governmental infrastructures cannot afford to be ambivalent regarding the creation and employment of research-driven initiatives. Nor should there be tardiness by the Barbados government in meeting financial and other economic commitments to its university, subsidiary colleges, vocational centres, and society as a whole.

The actions of government and the private sector must, however, be reinforced with a view that at the centre of internationalisation and commercialisation of an advanced education project, there has to be a strong emphasis on Barbados’ core resource.

Barbados’ human resources — its people — must be channelled with a “coherent strategy” emblazoned through equity and fairness regarding the distribution of benefits. Barbados must maximise its opportunities by examining new ways of doing things thus departing from conventional wisdom that is too dependent on the success of external factors, many of which are out of tune with Barbados’ requirements.

Perhaps, economists may well argue that the more applicable orientation has to be about achieving optimal proficiencies, becoming highly competitive, and being resource-enabled in order to ensure that the total education project attains an efficient balance between investment and returns. There is no disagreement on such an evaluation.

In fact, it is there that education and research can become the real catalysts for driving Barbados’ momentum towards enhanced economic growth. In effect, now is the time for Barbados and by extension the CARICOM countries, to place the education industry inclusive of research and technological development at the forefront of national and regional development. There must be a new thrust for ‘the strategic planning process for international education’ wherein Barbados boldly sets out its plans for reaching pre-set targets designated to achieve a strong and sustainable position as far as international standards will demand, and for which Barbados can surpass.

Professor Nigel Harris rightfully suggested that in terms of economic development “the UWI impacts Barbados as a whole. It employs a significant number of Barbadians. The capital growth helps to stimulate the Barbados economy”.

Against that socio-economic force, Barbados has to shape a cutting-edge environment in which quality assurance, technological advance, and “international” competitiveness can bring the benefits of education to the front line of its national development.

Barbados must lift its current game and operate with confidence. The country must function in incisive and productive ways that, will of necessity, far surpass the challenges encountered and overcame during the course of the last 50 years. This determination is definitely worthy of critical reflection. The university and overall education product requires national support and encouragement in these harsh economic times.

Tertiary and vocational level education as an indigenous product can carry Barbados to the desired goals of national and regional development. The contention here is that the internationalisation of educational output has been identified as a fundamental platform for Barbadians to launch sustainable development strategies. This is both at the micro and macro levels of developmental engagement, and is coupled to the clasps which bind the arrangements and mutual benefits of public-private initiatives.

Moreover, the strength of education and research to national development has the capacity to enhance the element of human resources as well as to augment the economic buttress needed in terms of earning foreign exchange and attracting various forms of international investments (i.e. portfolio and non-portfolio). The Leader of the Opposition, last November, made a sterling speech in which he appealed for practicality in its approach to economic governance.

For instance, Arthur stated that the UWI’s Cave Hill Campus already possesses the physical facilities and general resource bases that could transform the entirety of the surrounding areas of Cave Hill, Black Rock, Paynes Bay, Husbands, and Wanstead.

Certainly a university city as conceptualised by Arthur and Sir Hilary among others, could add much value to Barbados through the enhancement of its international networks and programmes. In being very practical, the Cave Hill Campus requires less money intensive physical expansions than many of the current tourism properties.

The general framework of the tourist industry tends to require more for maintenance and expansion in terms of their chase for international investments, markets, and foreign dollars. Surely, the potential earnings from foreign exchange would be far more immediate and prevailing over the course of one financial year to the next than reverting to the NIS or IADB for loans to start entities almost from scratch such as Four Seasons notwithstanding the overall benefits?

No government that intends to transform the educational system in Barbados and make it practical in terms of the peoples’ 21st century necessities should fail to come to grips with the potentials of internationalising the education and research product. A critical and proactive approach to progressing Barbados that focuses on the internationalisation of education can and should be a pivot in pulling Barbados out of its current depth of inevitability and cowardice in combating the negatives dampening hope and economic growth.

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