J-TEC Being Readied to Regulate and Transform Jamaica’s Tertiary Sector
MAXINE Henry-Wilson yesterday assured Jamaicans that legislation has been drafted to regulate the tertiary education sector which has, in recent weeks, been a source of great concern for some graduates.
Henry-Wilson, a former education minister who is now CEO/commissioner of the emerging Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission (J-TEC), also made clear that when J-TEC is fully established, any institution offering tertiary education must register with the commission. “Failure to do so will attract sanctions, including closure,” she said, adding that the Government “has an obligation to protect the significant investment made in acquiring a tertiary level education”.
Following is the full text of Henry-Wilson’s article.
In recent weeks, several graduates of local tertiary institutions have been voicing their displeasure at the failure of some local tertiary institutions to award them degrees despite them completing their programmes of study.
The students have argued that the delay has prevented them from taking up job offers or has resulted in them being paid lower salaries.
The affected colleges and universities, in their bid to provide an explanation, have indicated that the situation stems from the fact that their degree programmes have not yet been accredited by the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ), the entity established to quality assure and accredit programmes offered by local degree-granting institutions.
In a recent newspaper article, executive director of the UCJ, Dr Yvonette Marshall described the UCJ as the external quality assurance body for tertiary education in Jamaica. As such, tertiary level institutions in Jamaica are expected to submit their programmes to the UCJ for evaluation against established standards and criteria.
A major issue that has featured in the discussions on the UCJ’s role as the external quality assurance body is the accreditation process and the fact that a programme of study cannot be evaluated for accreditation until it has completed a full cycle.
For an undergraduate degree this is usually a period of four years. Persons registered in these institutions frequently discover the latter’s status only after completing the programme of study and after being told that the respective institution is awaiting the UCJ’s stamp of approval.
The Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission
The Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission (J-TEC) is being established under the Education System Transformation Programme (ESTP) and will be empowered under law to regulate, standardise, safeguard and transform Jamaica’s tertiary education sector.
Once fully established, J-TEC will ensure mandatory registration of all institutions operating at the tertiary level in Jamaica. It will also prescribe and monitor minimum standards of programme delivery.
J-TEC’s authority will extend to offshore or franchised offerings which may have full accreditation in their country of origin but which must have a permit to operate prior to offering any programme of study in Jamaica.
J-TEC’s empowering legislation will give it the right to register and licence institutions as well as support the strengthening of internal quality assurance and registration of tertiary level institutions. In addition, J-TEC will be granted the authority to ensure the maintenance of academic integrity through identification and monitoring of practices within tertiary level institutions.
J-TEC will be mandated to advise the minister of education on matters relating to tertiary education. It will, therefore, be both a regulatory and developmental entity for the tertiary sector.
Under temporary measures to be granted to J-TEC, institutions will be required to provide detailed information on their internal quality assurance mechanisms and practices. Having satisfied these requirements, institutions will then be fully registered. If a college or university falls below the threshold required to operate as a tertiary body, its permit could be withdrawn.
Process of Registration and Consequence of Non-Compliance
Any institution proposing to offer tertiary level education in Jamaica must indicate this to J-TEC through a letter of intent, providing full information required for application, including its governance structure, financial viability, alignment of academic staff with programmes being offered, availability of appropriate infrastructure and other support, for example, library and computer facilities, in order to obtain a permit to operate.
As a condition of registration, the applicant must register as a business with the Registrar of Companies, and must have an appropriate nomenclature, for example University College, College, or University. The designation will depend on the nature, content and level of courses. The institution will also need to satisfy J-TEC that it has an acceptable credential-granting platform.
The process of registration will ensure the attainment of minimum academic and operating standards. Should there be gaps in the standards under which an institution is to operate, it will be given time to effect remedies. It should be emphasised that the standards being applied will be consistent with global requirements, given the nature of tertiary education and the increasing demand for recognition of credentials beyond the shores in which they have been granted.
Student Services – A Priority
One of the major mandates of entities that regulate the tertiary education sector in other countries is that of enforcing robust student service requirements, with emphasis on clear, adequate and timely information to applicants, provision of time-bound responses to student enquires, organised and transparent student records and academic counselling.
The integrity of marketing documents of tertiary institutions is constantly under scrutiny with severe sanctions for misinformation and for violations in service provisions.
J-TEC will be establishing comparable systems and will not only be a source of data on these matters but will provide information and possible avenues of recourse for violations of standards relating to student affairs.
The thrust is to build and maintain a database of the entire spectrum of approved tertiary institutions in the country.
J-TEC will serve as the gatekeeper by regulating entry into the tertiary sector, ensuring that institutions meet the minimum governance standards and academic requirements in order to get a permit to operate.
The UCJ, on the other hand, will be the external accreditation agency, assessing standards at least four years after the programme is introduced. UCJ accredits on the evidence of the quality of the graduate. External accreditation will be voluntary, but registration with J-TEC will be mandatory and an institution’s failure to do so will attract sanctions, including closure.
Monitoring of these institutions based on standards will be continuous and of paramount importance to JTEC’s mandate to protect the public’s interest. Tertiary education is still the avenue of social mobility for the majority of Jamaicans. Therefore, the Government has an obligation to protect the significant investment made in acquiring a tertiary level education.
Draft legislation relating to the establishment of J-TEC is with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel and is expected to be tabled in the Houses of Parliament this legislative year.