What is your role in developing a knowledge-based economy in Jamaica?
STEPHEN VASCIANNIE UTech has had a significant history within Jamaica's education sector. In 2018, we celebrate our 60th anniversary. From the time of our founding, UTech has primarily been a technology-driven institution. Some 75% of our programs are technology related. We have a significant engineering program and programs in science, nursing, dentistry, and education, not to mention industrial and public health programs, among others. The university also requires linkages with other scholarly disciplines; thus, we have a significant College of Business and Management and a law program that we have been cultivating in recent years. We see our role as providing as many technologically-savvy graduates as our resources allow. We take pride in the fact that our graduates are ready to work from day one. Many of them go on to positions in industry in Jamaica, though a substantial number also go overseas to places such as North America, and to a lesser extent the UK. By providing a well-rounded education at UTech with a technological focus, we are able to serve the needs of the Jamaican economy as much as financially possible. The government of Jamaica has asked us to come up with a proposal for ways to increase the number of graduates with expertise in business process management within engineering. We have started talks with the government about producing 100 additional engineers per annum largely for this purpose.
LINCOLN EDWARDS One of the key things we do is to educate students from the region. The crime fighting strategy that has been implemented will invariably benefit the Caribbean and Latin American countries from which our students come. We have students from Cuba, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Colombia, and many other regional territories. We require all of our students to take a course in entrepreneurship, thereby preparing and encouraging them to open their own businesses. The days when students leave college and rely on others to provide jobs are behind us. We prepare our students to take up this slack, and we do a good job of this. Every year for the last four years, the Development Bank of Jamaica has conducted a national business model competition. All the top universities participate and get assessed. For the last four years, teams from NCU have won the competition. In 2018, I witnessed the judges award first, second and third place prizes to teams from NCU. These three teams went on to Silicon Valley to enter the international business model competition. When we educate our students, we lift the nation; educated nations are rich ones. Culture is also important. As we see a coarsening of society, the soft skills have become even more important today. We keep things like classical music, refinement, and etiquette principles alive on campus, so our students can enrich themselves and their communities. We also try to preserve classical learning.
What are your short- and medium-term goals?
SV We would like to play a key role in developing the tech landscape. Our hope is for there to be funding for the training of students. Foreign investors have noted that we have the talent, but not the critical mass of specialists. We, therefore, need more engineers, scientists, managers and other professionals. UTech has indicated to various branches of the government that if they assist us with funding, we can produce more and expand our operations to meet these demands. We also have excellent relations with, for example, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), both in terms of training its specialist engineers and providing Jamaica-specific solutions to problems. For example, UTech has worked with JPS on the development of an affordable “ready board" that provides access to electricity for deprived communities, which has received great feedback.
LE In the short term, we are focusing on making sure that our strategic plan is in place so that we can grow in a uniform and predictable way. We want to ensure that the critical processes needed for sustainable institutional growth are in place. We also want to invite partners to work with us, because we believe that we have a critical role to play in this part of the country and region. However, our resources are not sufficient to do everything we want to. This requires partnerships to expand our impact. Just because we are private, it does not mean we cannot partner with others. In the fight against crime, there should be a national effort. We need help to tackle the major issues facing Jamaica. As a faith-based institution, we have a close association with the church, which is also a wonderful network.