Gain An Edge: What Does This “University” Thing Mean?

Gain An Edge: What Does This “University” Thing Mean?

Dr. Ian Strachan, Professor of English Studies

November 28th, 2016

Each month, Gain An Edge will feature a guest writer who will share their personal views, insights and perspectives on higher education.  This month, Dr. Ian Strachan shares his thoughts on the transition to University and what it means for The Bahamas. Ian Strachan is a Professor of English Studies with University of The Bahamas, and a respected Bahamian playwright, poet and filmmaker. He is also a former Lyford Cay Scholar.

Gain An Edge: What Does This “University” Thing Mean?

By Ian Strachan

Let’s begin with what the College of The Bahamas becoming the University of The Bahamas does not mean.

It does not mean that we have become the equivalent of Harvard University, established in 1636; an institution with an endowment of $35.7 billion.

It does not mean that we offer every program and specialization at the undergraduate level that any citizen might desire to study.

It does not mean that we have facilities to match North American institutions.

It does not mean every student is happy with the level of service they are receiving.

It does not mean that every employee is going to do their jobs enthusiastically.

It does not mean that every faculty member will publish a book next year.

If you’ve been expecting any or all of those things you may be being more than a little unrealistic.   The 2016-2017 operating budget expenditure of Florida Atlantic University (a Tier 2 university) was in excess of 760 million $US. Do you know what the entire Bahamas budget for education was for 2016-2017?

I’ve heard this snide remark often during the last five years: “And they talking ‘bout they going to University” (followed by a suck teet’).  This remark is essentially meaningless. It presupposes that universities are a special kind of institution: the flawless kind. It presupposes that there is some magical power in the very word “University” that ought to have transformed COB into paradise by now. The fact is progress is being made; not as fast as we’d all like, but it is being made.

 

So what does the birth of UB really mean? Surface answer: COB has rebranded itself.  Deeper answer: COB has taken the next step in its evolution, gaining in law the right to greater self-determination and the right to incentives that should aid in its growth and development.

I am a former student of COB. I have been a Professor at COB for 20 years.  I have been a Vice President of COB.  I had the privilege of working on the UB Bill, now an Act.  The creation of UB is a good thing and is long overdue.

The rebranding of COB raises expectations within the institution and within the community.  It has the potential to increase the prestige of and pride in the institution.  It gives an institution that has changed significantly since 1975 an opportunity to reintroduce itself to the nation, the region and the world.  These are good things.

The UB Act gives the institution the right to determine its course more independently; it increases the flexibility of the institution; it lays the ground work for higher standards; and it broadens the involvement of stakeholders in crafting its policies and vision. These are good and necessary things.

A national university offers degrees to its citizens at home. Increasing participation in the advantages that post-secondary education provides necessarily means making that education readily available. UB is the university in our back yard, our university, offering our degrees, reflecting us as a people, while it also improves us, and challenges us. This is a good thing and cause for celebration.

Finally, the birth of UB means that, at last, the institution can cast off the albatross of “Transition” that has hung around its neck for a decade.  This is a good thing.  At UB we can now focus on our real business: teaching, creating new knowledge through research and serving our communities, with open hearts and minds, and with ready hands.

 

“Gain An Edge” is a weekly collaboration of the Lyford Cay Foundations, Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute and the College of The Bahamas aimed at promoting a national dialogue on higher education. To share your thoughts, email gainanedge@tribunemedia.net.

 

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