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UWI Opens New Distance Ed. Facility ... but at what cost?

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Contact: Richmond Felix

Mvc-001f.jpg (63142 bytes)March 1, 1999 - The University of the West Indies’, School of Continuing Studies in St. Lucia, on Saturday received the latest addition to its physical plant at Morne Fortune. The new distance education building forms part of a US$90,000 project to enhance the UWI’s programmes in science and technology, and distance education. It also makes provision for staff training and the development of new teaching material that is specifically geared to distance education.

According to Project Manager Walter Burke, this is the first step toward providing facilities that will allow persons in the Caribbean to pursue studies at their own convenience. "The technology is there! It is time that we all stop thinking of education as something, which is structured within four walls. If we start to envisage this, then through the formal commissioning of these buildings, I personally will go to my grave feeling that it has made a contribution to the development of this region" said Burke.

The new building, which includes a teleconferencing room and computer centre, is a scaled down version of the original project. Whilst expressing gratitude for the new facility, Resident Tutor at School of Continuing Studies Matthew Roberts said that the project was too long in coming due to excessive red tape and several gaps in the planning process.

The new distance education building is expected to increase not only the Centre’s distance education capabilities, but also contribute to the networking of Caribbean professionals in pursuits of research and development. Roberts says, "By allowing these operatives to use our teleconferencing facilities to discuss matters of mutual interest to them and to advance strategies for public implementation in the various professions, the University as a whole will, most practically, be contributing to the social development of the region and to the growth of civil society in this part of the world."

The Resident Tutor also took the opportunity to voice his concern over the use of the new building as a facility designed to increase the student intake in the distance education programs of the UWI. Roberts said, "Last year, instead of taking in more students to study at a distance, the university actually cut back on numbers even where persons were clearly qualified for admission, on the pretext that the faculties concerned did not want to be swarmed with a lot of scripts to mark at examination time." Mr. Roberts believes the university should carefully consider the implications of such approaches and called for good sense to prevail in the manner in which it operates.

The facility which had a budget of EC$593,000 was funded by the Caribbean Development Bank and the European Development Fund. Over the next few months, the Centre will receive hardware, which will allow it to join a network through which distance programs will be administered. It is expected that all will be in place for the new distance education building to start servicing students by the beginning of the next academic year.


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