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Life lessons from The College of The Bahamas

Life lessons from The College of The Bahamas

Nation's premier higher education facility helps drive economy by producing skilled, flexible labour pool

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 21, 2010
January 21, 2010
Simon Cobb

One of the more unexpected phrases that Janyne Hodder uses to describe The College of The Bahamas (COB) is “like a land-grab university.” President of COB since 2006, Hodder is making the point that “in large, successful economies universities are moving, or have moved, away from the medieval, ivory tower model. The modern state university is based on the system developed in the US after the Civil War, which was built up to develop the west.”

A university, she says, should be “like a road system–a piece of the infrastructure of a developed nation. It should be used to leverage development. In other words generate new resources.”

One way in which COB is pursuing this goal is the flagship undergraduate Small Island Sustainability programme announced in 2008. Funded by a $10 million donation from the Freedom Foundation, the programme will offer Bachelor of Science degrees in environmental and ecosystems management, and integrated development and planning; along with Bachelor of Arts degrees in ecotourism and development, and policy studies.

“We’re hoping this will lead to job creation, job development and the creation of new economic sectors,” says Hodder. When COB was established in 1974 it was an institution, she says, that “provided qualified personnel for the job market that existed–education, nursing, financial services, tourism–and did it very well. But a lot has changed. Now we’re not simply passively looking at the market we have and fuelling its existence, but trying to look at what’s going on in the world, and positioning what we do as linked to economic development and innovation.”

Nurturing business
In March last year COB launched the FINPYME programme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in partnership with Scotiabank and the Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC), an independent unit within the Inter-American Development Bank Group. FINPYME is primarily a diagnostic tool to help SMEs gauge and improve their competitiveness, which has proven successful in the Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, and as a result is now being rolled out in Colombia, Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as in The Bahamas.

Three assistant professors at the COB School of Business were trained in the FINPYME methodology and this year began working with 20 Bahamian SMEs. In addition to analysing the enterprises and providing them with an action plan, the programme will assess their eligibility for IIC funding to help them implement any recommendations. At the programme launch Hodder described it as a demonstration of COB’s, “reaching out towards the community to demonstrate that we will not only provide well-educated young people to work in these businesses but we will stay friends and close to you throughout your business life in any way that you need.”

Two-way partnership
That friendship is a two-way street. An increasingly large percentage of COB’s funding is coming from its partnerships with private business. When the college was founded, says Hodder, it was “publicly funded and pretty much publicly run. In 1995 we had new legislation that moved us from being a public sector institution. We became an independent institution, with an independent board. Still the bulk of our funding came from government, along with some from tuition fees. But we don’t think we can build excellence on public funding and tuition alone.”

COB, she says, is “very systematically” looking for private sector partners, “but not to drive our development. It’s not a case of asking a private donor, ‘What do you want to do, and then we’ll be an executing agency for you.’ What we are saying is that we have a strategic plan, of what we want to do, and would they like to support us.”

Future ambitions
COB’s ambition is amply demonstrated by the $28 million Harry C Moore Library and Information Centre now being built on campus, which is seen as a vital step towards the official recognition of COB’s university status. Not merely a college library, it will “support distance education, research and scholarship … by providing access to information resources utilizing the latest in technology,” says college librarian Willamae Johnson.

A virtual library of digital resources, made possible by a $1.5-million donation from the Lyford Cay Foundation, was launched in March 2009. It links COB to the Digital Library of the Caribbean and other public domains and already provides students and faculty with access to 3,000 free resources.

To emphasize COB’s growing confidence and stature, as well as its links to the business community, Hodder points to a new executive MBA course scheduled to start this September. Designed for those who are already successfully employed but want to further their career prospects, the programme has received a “massively positive response in pre-studies of corporate interest,” says Hodder. “So we know there is a need for it. And it will be entirely unique to The Bahamas.”

The country’s most important business sector, the tourism industry, has been using COB to improve the quality of its existing workforce for more than a decade. Jackson Weech, general manager of SuperClubs Breezes on Cable Beach, graduated from the Bahamas Hotel Training College in the mid-80s, before it was absorbed into COB to become what is now the Culinary and Hospitality Management Institute. He currently has three of his own employees doing part-time courses towards accreditation at the Institute.

“They are all making the transition towards management,” he says. “We sponsor and reimburse them with the caveat that they get at least 70 per cent on their courses.” The Institute offers two bachelor’s degrees–in tourism management and in hospitality management, as well as various associate degrees and certificates.

COB also offers what Hodder calls “an outreach as well as an academic function” via the Institute of Languages and Culture. Here a part-time clientele, mostly drawn from the tourism or financial services industries, can study Spanish, French, German, Haitian Creole and Mandarin Chinese in short, intensive, non-degree courses.

For Hodder this is one of the most important roles that COB can play in the development of the economy in a changing world: “Contributing a highly skilled, flexible labour pool–producing, not people that have memorized Shakespeare, but people who can write, think critically, work in a team–all the qualities you’d expect of a university graduate. Because look around, the old models are changing, and that’s the only way The Bahamas can cope with the future.”

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