Forged in the Bowels of Corruption: Pt 4

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 11, 2017


Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeThis may be a far-out comparison but it bears making if only because it allows us to measure what success looks like at serious academic institutions. Fifty years ago, Jawaharlal Nehru, the president of India, created the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) with UNESCO’s assistance and funds from the Soviet Union to train his country’s scientists and engineers. On July 25, 1958, ITT Bombay, the second ITT, opened its doors with 100 students. These students “were selected from over 3,400 applicants for admission to the first undergraduate programmes.” IIT’s motto is, “Knowledge is the Supreme Goal.”

Today, IIT Bombay is an intellectual powerhouse. Read the testimony of CBS 60 Minutes program on March 2, 2003:

“Put together Harvard, MIT, and Princeton, and you begin to get an idea of the status of this school in India. ITT is dedicated to producing world-class chemists, electrical, and computer engineers, with a curriculum that may be the most rigorous in the world. Just outside the campus gates, the slums, congestion, and chaos of Bombay are overwhelming. Inside it’s quiet and overcrowded, and by Indian standards, very well equipped. Getting here is the fervent dream of nearly every school boy.”

ITT Bombay is one of the hardest schools in the world to get into. In 2001, “178,00 high school seniors took the entrance exam. Just over 3500 were accepted, or less than 2%. This admittance record can be compared with Harvard which accepts about 10% of its applicants.” Its alumni include the dean of Harvard Business School, a former head of McKinsey & Company, and the vice chairman of City Group.

One can judge the success of an academic institution by the competitiveness of its entrance requirements and the achievements of its alumni. In my time, QRC, St. Mary’s, Presentation or Bishop’s were the places to go. Some of our most important leaders of the last generation attended one of these schools.

Compare this with UTT’s recent record. Last year around registration time, the leaders of UTT sent an urgent plea to two PNM members of parliament begging them to encourage their constituents to enroll in UTT. It didn’t have enough students. No competitive exams or minimum qualifications were required. Just send them by grap and we would take them in.

UTT may have been a noble gesture but foolishness sidetracked it. The money was there but neither serious academic standards nor stringent procedures were set in place. It was seen as a feeding trough for those who had connections: ex-UWI professors, sports people of some notoriety, and so on. The university never laid down a proper academic foundation to take it through the tough days. So that when Ken Julien, UTT chairman, asks for $190 million “to navigate through this difficult period,” one needs ask, More money for what?

The composition of UTT’s board of governors leaves much to be desired. With the exception of Julien, a distinguished scholar, there are no other members that can be called distinguished. The board consists of an engineer, a geologist, a historian, a consultant/trainer, a market consultant, a former market director, a chartered accountant, an educator, and a physician. How does such an academically challenged group provide guidance to a national university that has pretensions of competing with international institutions?

UTT had its “genesis in the Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Technology (TITT), initially focusing on programs in engineering and technology.” Then it grew to encompass thirteen campuses training [not educating] students in areas such as aviation, biosciences, agriculture and food technology, Information and Communication Technology, Fashion, Sports, Marine Science, and Health.

Yet, at the leadership level, the university remains strangely committed to engineering. The governor of the board is an engineeer, the president of the University, Sarim Al-Zubaidy, is a mechanical engineer. He was the founding vice-dean of teaching and learning at Nazarbayev University (2011-13) and academic leader and operations manager (School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University (Dubai campus (2006-11).

The best the university can say of Al-Zubaidy is that he has had over “twenty years’ experience in both senior academic and administrative positions in a variety of higher education institutions around the world. University experience ranges from the traditional, to the newly formed, to those in transition from college/polytechnic.” So much for excellence.

A. C. Imbert, professor in Mechanical/Metallurgical/Manufacturing Engineering (Emeritus UWI), is listed as the deputy chairman of the board of governors. One is not too sure if he is a part of UTT’s administrative apparatus. If so, is this a conflict of interest? He is a nice guy, but has he distinguished himself in his field. In this context, OCLC WorldCat has not been helpful.

If we, as a culture, accept that knowledge is a supreme value and we should strive for excellence nationally and internationally, can UTT’s leadership team take us there? And if UTT’s only demand is to ask for more, can we justify throwing good money after bad? Should we expect a leadership team that has failed us in the past to make things right again.

Maybe the time has come to ask how much good UTT has done rather than how much more money we should give it?

3 Responses to “Forged in the Bowels of Corruption: Pt 4”

  • OR is this a case of a second rate institution forced to cater to the demands of a culturally corrupt Trini clientele which would lie, cheat and steal their way to some sort of diploma?

  • It is a far-out comparison to compare IIT with UTT based on population size and quality output reflective of growth and development. It would have been more meaningful to compare the 6 universities in Singapore and the many overseas campuses that exist in Singapore with the fledging local institutions right here. I must state at the beginning I do support your analytical points and concerns as submitted and my submission is just justifying and supporting.
    It is my opinion that UTT should not have been established in the first place because there was an absence of long term planning (including contingency) lacking fluidity in vision, sustainability and integrating existing industries. Treading toes with CARIRI, CARDI etc. defeats rather than promotes
    Singapore has a plan and at the onset it injects 20 % of it’s GDP into education. SFTI and JDTI should have maintained the status quo in support of generating and improving the courses it offered to the expanding energy based industries re-Point Lisas. Those institutions were doing an excellent job in producing well qualified human capital e.g., the lab technician program that was upgraded to the science technician program in the 80’s. Those institutes should have gradually been upgraded to polytechnics and then proceeded to a university level. The COSTAAT role was just a name change lacking meaningfulness probably to justify NIHERST was doing something.
    Those technical institutions should have had an upgrade in equipment and human capital (teaching) so that their output would have been at same calibre comparable intranational institutions. UWI had the likes of Prof Sammy who generated the lime cordial and sorrel plants that would very well come under the umbrella of TECHNOLOGY. Prof Bartholomew in the medical field etc. UWI was involved in intensive industrial research with Caroni such as the manufacture of JETT (waste from granulated sugar) into high quality syrups that were led into cordials development such as passion fruit etc. vinegar, bakers yeast, rice cultivation at the proposed fermentation complex, particle boards from the bagasse (may I add here the managerial parasites at Caroni were there for only self-serving purposes). UWI showed that the defunct cocoa research station was in tune with change that was coming its way with industrial diversification within its agricultural dept. The point made here is UWI was doing very well in the academia and technological research.
    I can go and on with Cement, asphalt, etc. but that would be meaningless here. Creating entry competition at UTT is spinning top in mud. Your title ‘forged from the bowels of corruption’ is suitable here because the question arises, how can you get quality output when the input is so corrupted?

  • I have been reading the series on this topic and I can say that I totally agree with the statements made by the Professor. In Trinidad and Tobago we are afraid or dishonest with the truth. UTT was created to fill the ego of a few high flying people in Trinidad and Tobago. I have heard so much allegations at the start of this institution it would take more than four articles to say it all. UTT was incorporated as a Private corporation funded to the tune of $2 Billion dollars by the people of TT. The Prime Minister and several top ranking officials decided this was the way to go. We did not see the studies and rationale for the creation of UTT. Further to the incorporation of UTT the directors took legal action against the people and government of TT to avoid giving answers to relevant questions about the affairs of the institution. There were allegations that the management of UTT were buying properties over the market value. There was a program to give Doctorates to a large number of senior citizens so much so a special term name was given to the program. In addition a stipend of $9000.00 was paid to these pensioners to pursue the doctorates. These doctorates were in many dubious or created fields. Has any of these “Doctors” made any meaningful contribution to the life and economy of TT. The salaries and benefits were way above the norm in TT. Money was “no problem” to quote the father of the nation. The persons who created this institution must be held accountable. But again no one in TT is held accountable. After all: This is Trinidad. The tax payers are being bled and defrauded day in day out.

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