The university and college landscape in the Caribbean is certainly expanding. Gone are the days when there was only one regional university - the University of the West Indies. Today, there are approximately 70 registered colleges and universities offering tertiary programmes in the Caribbean.
In almost every Caribbean country, there is a university or college. Not only in the larger islands but there are universities in the smaller islands too. So if you want to escape the teeming pace of the larger islands, you can pursue studies in a small island for example, the quaint island of Saba.
The course options that are offered by Caribbean universities and colleges are increasingly becoming more competitive with their North American and European counterparts. There is a wide variety of specialisation being offered and no longer do students have to leave the Caribbean to go to North America and Europe to pursue certain subjects. They can now be pursued right here in the region.
Among some of the disciplines which are offered in the Caribbean which students would otherwise have had to travel overseas to pursue several years ago are, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine offered at St. George’s University - with campuses in Grenada - marine science and Optometry.
The St. Matthews University School of Medicine in the Cayman Islands and the Faculty of Medicine at St. Martinus University in Curacao, for example are two such universities that offer Veterinary Medicine. St. Martinus University offers Dentistry and in the area of Optometry, this can be pursued at the IAPUR School of Optometry in Puerto Rico.
The University of the West Indies also offers degrees in Marine Sciences as they have a Centre for this area of study.
Some of the other disciplines that are being offered in the region are degrees in Agriculture, Hospitality, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Architecture, Hotel and Tourism, Nursing, Medicine, Communications, Law, Computer and many more in the arts and sciences.
Many of the Universities in the region not only offer undergraduate programmes but graduate programmes as well.
Of note, there are some fifteen universities in the Caribbean which have medical schools. Some of these universities are accredited by accreditation bodies in the United States. Additionally some programmes focus both on US and European standards thereby offering students the option of pursuing their clinical sciences in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom. A test to the confidence placed in these institutions is that some of them have attracted students from different nationalities particularly, those from the United Kingdom, Canada, Republic of Ireland and the United States.
Regarding technological development, from the websites of many of the universities it was ascertained that they are making every effort to equip their faculties with state-of-the art equipment. In the area of the sciences, many of the universities are upgrading their laboratory facilities. Many have wireless internet connectivity and distance learning programmes. Plans are afoot to boost the distance learning programme among five universities in the region. These universities are, the University of the West Indies, University of Suriname, University of Guyana, University of Quisqueya in Haiti and the University of Technology. This development will be undertaken through the Caribbean Universities Project for Integrated Distance Education.
The project seeks to increase the access to services offered by universities in the Caribbean region and will provide the hardware to enhance the existing telecommunication infrastructure, technical assistance and training of personnel in each of the five universities.
To earn a degree in the Caribbean, the cost is significantly less than if students were to go to the United States, Canada or the Europe. Students pursuing degrees in the Caribbean will be spared the cost associated with purchasing hard currency to finance overseas studies. It is more economical to pursue degrees in the Caribbean as tuition fees are approximately one third of the cost of overseas programmes.
Vice President for Finance and Industry at the Northern Caribbean University (NCU), Danieto Murry points out that a masters degree, for example, at the NCU would cost US$8,000 while, in the United States, it would cost US$10,000 per year. He notes that a bachelors degree at the NCU would cost $J3,900 per credit while at a sister university in the United States it would cost US$600 per credit. Another example of how affordable tuition fees in the Caribbean are, Mr Murry says a PHD programme in Education would cost US$250 per credit whereas in the United States it would cost US$750 per credit.
Not only are tuition fees in the Caribbean comparatively lower but students get value for their money. The NCU Vice President for Finance and Industry states that: “What we are offering in the Caribbean is equal in quality and in some instances greater than that which could be obtained elsewhere.” He adds that the standard is high as has been seen in the case where students who have attained a “C” average at a university in the Caribbean have gone overseas to pursue further studies and their grades have been transformed into “A’s”. According to Mr. Murry, a testimony of the high standard set by universities in the Caribbean can be seen in the training of our nurses and teachers who when they go overseas they are looked on very favourably.
When choosing a university or college within the Caribbean, it is important that you select an institution which is accredited by a recognised accreditation body says Dr. Ethley London, Executive Director of the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ). There is no one accreditation body for all Caribbean Universities and several countries have different quality assurance mechanisms, she explains.
There is, however, a regional network in the form of CANQATE which according to Dr. London is a professional body responsible for developing quality assurance agencies in the area of tertiary education. It is linked to the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQUAAHE). This organization is operational worldwide.
Dr. London also adds that CARICOM is also engaged in discussions to establish a regional mechanism for accreditation.
The UCJ Executive Director also advises students to shop around and consider the relevance of the programme which they heave selected to their career needs.
Caribbean Universities and Colleges have vibrant and diverse extra curricular programmes designed to facilitate the interaction of students. There is a rich blend of students from most of the islands as well as international students which allows for cultural exchange and mutual understanding of people of diverse background..
Additionally, some campuses are within close distance to the Caribbean sea and the rushing breeze, tropical vegetation and scenic setting provides a most tranquil get away for pursuing studies.
Getting your degree in the Caribbean is not only strategic and advantageous. It allows you to read for a degree which is relevant to the Economic, Social and Cultural conditions prevailing in the region and this can only be good for regional integration and development to face the challenges of globalisation.