Jamaica’s University of Technology (UTECH) is at a crossroads and it’s desperately seeking help from its alumni, including those in the Greater Toronto Area.
Student fees increased last year by nearly 15 per cent after the government slashed the university’s budget by nearly 57 per cent in the past decade.
“We are in a crunch,” admitted UTECH’s president, Dr. Errol Morrison, in Toronto for the Ontario alumni chapter’s eighth annual fundraising banquet last Saturday night in Brampton. “With loss of jobs, a struggling tourism industry and a decrease in remittances by almost 30 per cent, it’s obviously a challenge for our students to come up with fees. “The message is that we need to do all we can to keep our young people in school.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for UTECH, however.
Enrolment of foreign students has increased from less than one per cent to over three per cent since Jamaica’s success at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“That’s significant and much of it has to do with the success of Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser and others,” said Morrison, an Excelsior High School graduate. “The big question is how can we become like Usain and Asafa. The international media attention has also helped to raise the profile of the institution.”
Morrison said the university is poised for expansion with the launch of new programs, including dentistry, in the next academic year and medical sciences for foreign students. He also said the academic institution is seeking greater autonomy to operate within the same parameter as its neighbour, the University of the West Indies (UWI).
“UTECH is an Act of Parliament and as such is subject to the procurement rules governing the civil service,” he explained. “That completely constrains the kind of nimbleness that a university needs to compete in the marketplace. We have told the government we are not asking them for anything unusual.
“We are asking for the same kind of procurement and modus operandi that’s extended to the UWI that will allow us as the national university to compete in timely way. As it now stands, for us to get even a consultant to join the staff to do a specific project, by the time you tender and so on, it’s much too late. I have always contended that in academia, it’s our business to know where the best minds are and if I need someone to deal with ecology or the marine, I should know where to find that individual and to get that person as quickly as possible. The ability to function on the same platform like the UWI will make a big difference for us.”
Since its inception in 2002, the UTECH Ontario chapter has each year recognized a past student residing in the province with a Distinguished Alumnus award. This year’s recipient is Maurice Burnside who graduated from UTECH with an Architectural Technology diploma and Howard University with a degree.
The alumni chapter also acknowledged Canadian-based members of the university’s 1960 graduating class. The graduates include retired Canadian politician and diplomat Alvin Curling, who received a Doctor of Letters from his alma mater five years ago, and 2003 Distinguished Alumnus award winner and former University of Waterloo assistant professor, Dr. Clifford Blake.
Originally the Jamaica Institute of Technology, the institution expanded into the College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST) before being accorded university status in September 1995.