Universities A Growth Imperative

March 19, 2017

"No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated."

- Nelson Mandela


Former prime minister of Jamaica Edward Seaga often said, "No poor country is educated, and no educated country is poor."

No matter how it is described, leaders across the world have all pointed to education as critical to the economic and social development of any nation.

The need for greater emphasis on higher education in Jamaica has been acknowledged by the Michael Lee Chin-led Economic Growth Council (EGC) in its September 2016 document Call to Action, which listed "poor human capital and entrepreneurship" as one of the main retardants to Jamaica's economic growth.

But the question arises, has Jamaica developed a higher- education sector to prepare a workforce that will fill all the human-resources needs for Jamaica to achieve developed-country status in the shortest possible time?

A review of the country's tertiary education over the past 70 years indicates the progress that has been made, and the areas in which more can be achieved.

The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, dominated higher education for decades after its establishment in 1948. But over the past three decades, there have been rapid developments both in the quantity and variety of offerings in higher education.

Since the former College of Arts, Science and Technology, now the University of Technology (UTech), achieved degree-granting status in 1986, dozens of institutions, both local and overseas-based, have responded to Jamaica's demand for higher education, from employers and students. These institutions have enabled more persons to obtain bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees.

The move to provide greater access to higher education is a prerequisite if Jamaica is to achieve the goal of becoming a developed nation. As identified by the EGC, the development of human capital is one of the key drivers of economic growth.


In its 2011 Jamaica Country Economic Memorandum: Unlocking Growth, the World Bank noted that one of the main causes of low productivity are "deficiencies in human capital and entrepreneurship due, inter alia, to quality deficiencies in education and training and high migration rates for tertiary graduates and skilled workers".

According to STATIN in 2013, 69 per cent of Jamaica's labour force had no training. Without doubt, Jamaica must improve the level of education and training of its people if it is to compete on the global scale.

Included in the eight growth initiatives listed by the EGC is the development of human capital. The recommendations of the EGC to develop human capital include:

- Ensuring educational financing (loans, incentives and grants) to support labour market-driven programmes aligned to the economic development and growth agenda.

- Increased access to training and certification, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and

- Upgrading and expanding work-based learning and apprenticeship programmes.

However, long before the EGC's formation, Jamaica's higher-education institutions, both public and private, have been rising to the challenge to increase training for local and overseas economies.

- UWI's Mona Campus, for example, has increased its offerings in engineering and medical sciences in both the number of places and variety of options.

- UTech has expanded its offerings in the health sciences, among other areas.

- The Caribbean Maritime Institute, soon to be the Caribbean Maritime University, has been responding to human-resource needs in engineering, shipping, security and other aspects of the growing logistics industry.

- The College of Agriculture, Science and Education, the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sport, to mention a few, have been providing for the higher-education needs in specific disciplines, not only for Jamaica but the world at large.

- The hospitality sector is also well served with both UWI and UTech offering several areas of study in this regard. The HEART Trust/NTA also provides options from the entry level up to senior management.

- The University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC), formerly the University College of the Caribbean, has been preparing graduates for the global marketplace in many areas such as business and management, and has forged strategic partnerships with Government and the private sector to provide exciting new options in the medical sciences and law. The UCC also prepares workers for the rapidly growing business process outsourcing (BPO) industry through its Contact Centre Academy of Jamaica, and provides employment in this sector through its subsidiary, Global Knowledge Process Solutions.


In summary, Jamaica's higher-education institutions have responded nimbly to the country's higher-education needs. In fact, one may argue that the weak growth of the economy over the last 40 years has forced many of our brightest professionals to migrate in order to fulfil their potential. The migration of our teachers and nurses, for example, continues unabated.

So, indications are that higher-education institutions are producing graduates for all of Jamaica's major sectors - health care, education, agriculture, manufacturing, hospitality, financial services, construction, mining and BPO. But are these graduates just meeting the needs of employers, or are they adding maximum value in new products and services that create greater wealth for the country?

My observation is that there is much more to learn, create, adapt and develop in many areas. Even in the agricultural sector, which has grown significantly over the last few years, experts admit that this is as much because of favourable weather as it is to government policy and private-sector investment.

Professionals Needed

Highly educated professionals are needed in areas such as hydroponics, irrigation, agro-processing, agronomy - including plant genetics, greenhouse technology and veterinary science - if the sector is to realise its full potential in terms of earnings and employment.

A point to note is that several major private firms have been investing seriously in agriculture. Companies such as GraceKennedy, Seprod, Jamaica Broilers and Red Stripe have been putting their finances, knowledge and experience into agriculture to maximise returns for their investors.

While the migration of Jamaican professionals such as teachers and nurses continues to be of concern, it is time that we capitalise on the positive aspects of migration, such as the billions of dollars in remittances sent back to the country from these professionals, as well as the skills and linkages that accrue to the country. We need to double the number of nurses and science teachers trained annually in Jamaica over the next 20 years. This is an investment that is sure to pay off given the ageing populations in developed countries.

Whatever the plans and policies adopted for Jamaica's development, the higher-education sector will be critical to its success. With the country on its current growth trajectory, Jamaica's higher-education institutions, in partnership with Government and the private sector, and inclusive of long-term financing, will continue to respond successfully to any human-resource requirement.