It is always good to go back home. Lady Allen and I are delighted to be here with you this afternoon to share in the celebration of yet another achievement of the Moneague College – the dedication ceremony for the new Gloria Johnson Multi-purpose Building.
I extend special greetings to the Principal, faculty and staff, as well as past students and members of the current student body who have joined us for this dedication ceremony. It seemed like just yesterday that I sat where you are sitting now, and here I am now wondering, where did the years go?
Forty years ago I enrolled here and made this place my second home. It was the first time I was leaving home. Fortunately for me I found in the Principal, faculty, staff and fellow students, the family I needed to help me in the transitional phase of life. I am forever grateful and will always be indebted to the Moneague College for the mentoring, support and succouring. You can always also count on my support.
Bridge to the past & rebirth
Moneague College is a unique institution. In many respects, it is a bridge to Jamaica’s colonial past, which historical significance is well documented. The College has made tertiary education accessible to a significant number of rural based students which has contributed to rural development while also reducing the rural to urban drift.
When I reflect on Moneague College, I am reminded of the mythical, sacred firebird, the Phoenix. I am sure you have heard the story of this fantastic bird with its colourful plumage and a life span of between 500 and 1,000 years.
Legend has it that near the end of its life, this bird builds itself a nest of twigs which ignites, consuming both nest and bird, burning fiercely before being reduced to ashes. From these ashes, a young Phoenix arises to live as long as its old self.
The story of the Phoenix is both fascinating and terrifying. I never thought I would see one, nor encounter that kind of experience in my lifetime. Yet here I am this afternoon, speaking to the truest representation of the Phoenix that there could ever be.
The Moneague College has had many ‘lives.’ From being the Moneague Hotel which opened in 1891 for an agricultural exhibition, to its use as a billeting camp for soldiers during World War I. It then became the Moneague Teachers’ College in 1956 and transitioned to the Moneague College in 1993.
In August this year, I, along with other Jamaicans watched in horror as fire destroyed the old Multi-purpose Block which represented a piece of the cultural, architectural and educational heritage of Jamaica. But from the ashes of destruction, smouldering façade, and gutted fretwork, we now witness the successful creation of a new multi-purpose space which has risen out of the rubble – as it were -revitalized, renewed and reinvented.
With a delay of only two weeks of that tragedy, you were up and running. Congratulations to the administration, faculty, staff and students. I can say you have triumphed over this adversity.
Financing tertiary education
For the past 45 years, you have conducted business on the premise that education is a right and a tool of empowerment. Hence the strategic move to expand beyond a teacher-training institution to a multi-disciplinary college, offering certificates, associate degrees and degrees in many areas. This has made the institution more attractive to many students and potential students.
You are an example of a 21st Century institution that has remained committed to the adoption of initiatives that will ensure effective and efficient delivery of services, by offering courses that are directly related to student demand and facilitate, the creation of new industries and areas of entrepreneurial activity. The Associate Degree in Business Studies, Hospitality and Tourism Management and Management Information Systems which the college is accredited to offer, are consistent with the development of such new industries.
However, I know that you have not escaped the challenges to provide recession-proof tertiary education. Unfortunately, the recession has caused a ‘general slowdown in economic activity’ over the past couple of years and financing tertiary education is a victim of this global problem to which a growing number of countries are struggling to find innovative solutions.
There are no easy answers to this problem. Gone are the heady days of the 1970’s when university education in Jamaica was free (at all levels). The reality now is that all stakeholders (institutions, government, family and students) must devise creative solutions to address this problem. You may be asking yourselves just what are some of the options:
1. Educational Institutions
In some countries, many universities have responded to the financial decline by laying off staff, reducing salaries and benefits, and eliminating some course offerings. In other places institutions are fighting back and have increased the number of scholarships and grants offered, and constructed additional student housing.
Some Colleges have been creating new sources of funding with support from private corporate entities and alumni associations to help them maintain or even expand their institutional capacity.
This facility that is being opened this afternoon is a prime example of collaboration between the institution, corporate Jamaica and individuals who believe in education as a tool for personal and economic growth.
Tertiary education no longer means face-to-face sessions and lectures in a formal class or lecture room setting. Computer and computer-related technologies have dramatically changed the access to education. Students now access information for training and research purposes at their finger tips and these are pathways to learning that are being embraced and used at all levels.
Jamaica has a high level of internet penetration and tele-density comparable to first world countries. One hundred and eighty (180) educational institutions across the island are involved in the e-learning project. The foundation therefore exists for the delivery of tertiary education via a telecoms based platform.
I believe Moneague College is strategically situated and positioned policy-wise, and has the leadership, to take advantage of the opportunities available though telecommunications and be among the vanguard of tertiary institutions in Jamaica and the Caribbean that set the standards for quality and innovation.
Writing in a leading local Business Journal a former university professor opined that, “The time might be approaching when the state links funding to output and performance measures that are consistent with national goals of reducing poverty and inequality. . .”
We must clearly position ourselves for the future is looming, indeed it has arrived, when governments will have less to spend on tertiary level education. It is hoped that the changes made will result in an equitable distribution of resources among all the tertiary institutions in the Island, and redound to be benefit of students and the nation in general.
Family contribution will become a more compelling component in financing tertiary education. So parents would do well to start saving and investing for college and university education from the birth of their children. This proactive approach will do much to lessen the stress on the family later.
Students are the biggest stakeholders and are the reasons why these institutions exist. I am sure that many of you attending College here do so at great sacrifice. For some students, student loans schemes provide an alternative to mitigate financial constraints. The Student Loan Bureau in Jamaica has been a life line to higher education, but I have a sense that there is a certain amount of fear and trepidation in approaching the Bureau. Some of the reasons students give are that they cannot find qualified guarantors. They may not find jobs immediately on graduating and do not want to face the possibility of defaulting on loan repayment.
These may all be valid reasons, but this financing facility has helped thousands of students. I have been a beneficiary. I borrowed the princely sum of $300 for completing my studies here. Each month for two years, the sum of $10 was withdrawn from my salary of $250 per month until the loan was repaid. You can laugh at those figures now but back in the day, that was considered a lot of money! The fact is that having a plan and consistently executing it will help in loan repayment.
Other alternatives which students should consider include pursuing studies at a community college for the first two years before going on the university.(The Valedictorian at Saturday night’s Graduation at the UWI, Mona is a past student of Moneague College.) Work/study programmes are also options for funding.
Having said all that, I wish to encourage you in keeping with the Message of a philosophy that has been guiding me all my life and more so acutely since I assumed this Office – I Believe.
You must first believe in yourself and your country –not just to work for money, but to help build those things that money cannot buy. This belief in Jamaica, in excellence, and in the greatness that resides in all of us, is akin to the legendary phoenix. In many ways, the Phoenix is the epitome of that kind of aspirant approach to life:
- an approach which exceeds the bounds around it,
- sheds the dross and baggage accumulated over time,
- and redefines itself into new avenues of development.
This allows for excellence in your daily lives,
- Excellence in your studies,
- Excellence in your community relations and outreach,
- Excellence in your projections and work for national development.
- Excellence is anything that distinguishes you, and sets you apart.
With this new space for continued learning, you must be unrelenting in your reach for excellence and must continue to believe that there is always better, higher and greater to be accomplished. Indeed, the Olympic motto best encapsulates the idea of excellence, when it speaks of Olympians being “Higher, Faster, and Stronger.” Like the Phoenix, you must adapt yourself to a new experience of excellence which your motto defines as ‘soaring to the heights of excellence’.
This approach to life, which I still embrace, was cemented in me in the process of my sojourn here. So I use the opportunity this afternoon to encourage all my listeners not to lose sight of your goals or be daunted by challenges, but with grit and determination rise above disappointments, frustrations, financial and other hardships and overcome the impediments that face you.
Congratulations again on the initiative to construct this building and I am confident that it will significantly enhance activities and functions at this institution.