Teething Pains At UTech’s College of Oral Sciences

UnknownLast Wednesday, I telephoned Dr. Irving McKenzie, dean of the College of Oral Sciences at the University of Technology. I wanted to ask a single, straightforward question: Why was UTech bypassing accreditation of its degree programme in dentistry?

I was relieved by Dr McKenzie’s unexpected answer. UTech is not actually avoiding review by the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP). A consultant has been hired to manage the long and expensive process. The first stage is self-assessment, which has already started.

So why didn’t Dr. McKenzie say this in his article, “Jamaica Produces World-Class Dentists”, published last Monday? He didn’t even acknowledge CAAM-HP, much less the need for accreditation. Instead, he announced that “the University of Technology (UTech) has made the strategic decision to ensure that graduates of the College of Oral Health Sciences are qualified according to world-class standards”.

Dr. McKenzie seemed to be proposing that the examination administered by the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA), based in the US, was insurance enough. Mere accreditation of the academic programme by the unmentionable CAAM-HP didn’t appear to count. But should it be either or?

Making his case for world-class standards, Dr. McKenzie echoed the words of Professor Colin Gyles, deputy president of the University of Technology. In an article headlined, “Carolyn Cooper and the UWI Cartel”, published on April 28, Professor Gyles reported that “The CDCA is described as being like the GOLD standard for dental competency assessment”.

The inflammatory headline of Professor Gyles’ article is the work of a devilish Gleaner editor. The original was much more innocent: “Protecting our nation’s investment in university education”. The provocative headline sent a subliminal message. It was a reminder that I’d invited Vybz Kartel to speak at UWI. But, perhaps, as a teacher of literature, I’m reading too much into it.

THE REAL DEAL

SMILEEE-resized-600.jpgUTech’s last-minute decision to start the accreditation process is the real “world-class” deal. For example, the website of the American Dental Association (ADA) makes it quite clear that “Though requirements vary from state to state, all applicants for dental licensure must meet three basic requirements; an education requirement, a written examination requirement and a clinical examination requirement”.

The website confirms that “The educational requirement in nearly all states is a DDS or DMD degree from a university-based dental education program accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation (ADA CODA). References to accreditation in states’ licensure provisions relate to the CODA and no other agency”.

Dr. McKenzie boastfully announces that “The people of Jamaica can be justly proud that the graduating dentists, having successfully passed this most objective method of assessment, are competent dental professionals that are eligible for licensure by the Dental Council of Jamaica and the licensing bodies of many States in the USA, countries in the region and elsewhere in the world”.

This declaration is not entirely accurate. Passing the CDCA examination is not enough. In order to be licensed in the majority of states within the US, dentists must have graduated from a university with an accredited dental education programme.

Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, the CDCA exam only tests clinical competence. It does not meet the written test requirement, as outlined by the American Dental Association. Are we in the Caribbean willing to settle for lower standards than those of the ADA?

CONSPIRACY THEORY?

imagesDr McKenzie is a busy, busy, busy man. He wears several hats. He’s the chief dental officer in the ministry of health. In that capacity, he’s a long-standing member of the regulatory Dental Council of Jamaica; and, on top of that, he’s dean of the College of Oral Sciences at the University of Technology. It is rumoured that he also has a private practice in dentistry. But that cannot possibly be true. Those patients would really have to be very patient to see him.

Until quite recently, it seems, UTech appeared unwilling to begin the demanding process of accreditation by CAAM-HP. I wonder if the dean of the College of Oral Sciences inveigled the chief dental officer to approach the Dental Council of Jamaica to cut a deal with the CDCA as a way around the obstacle of accreditation! Sounds like a conspiracy theory.

Furthermore, Dr. McKenzie seems to have forgotten which hat he was wearing when he asserted that “the University of Technology (UTech) has made the strategic decision” to ensure that its students could take the CDCA examination. As I understand it, the CDCA does not enter into contractual arrangements with teaching institutions, only with licensing bodies. So the CDCA recognises the Dental Council, not UTech.

Color VersionIn addition, both UTech and UWI dental students are eligible to take the CDCA exam. But, to date, the Dental Council has not officially informed UWI of this development. In effect, UTech got a head start. Their students have already taken a mock exam and are about to do the real-real exam later this month.

What I simply don’t understand is why the minister of health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, has not acted decisively to rein in Dr. McKenzie. But based on his mishandling of the chik-V disaster and, more recently, the Riverton plague, I suppose it’s too much to expect the minister to rise from his state of terminal impotence.

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UTech Deputy President Beating His Gums

If he’s not careful, Professor Colin Gyles, deputy president of the University of Technology (UTech), will soon need the services of a graduate of an accredited dental degree programme. He’s just beating his gums in response to my column published last Sunday, “University fi stone dog in the UK?”

There, I state the truth: “UTech hasn’t even applied for accreditation of its dental programme! And the first graduates are about to be let loose on an unsuspecting world”. In his evasive column, “Carolyn Cooper and the UWI cartel”, published last Tuesday, Professor Gyles takes almost 800 words to avoid addressing the issue of accreditation.

redherringInstead, he puts some rather smelly red herrings on the table, hoping, I suppose, to distract readers from the meat of the matter. Professor Gyles says he’s a graduate of the University of the West Indies. That’s irrelevant. Then he makes a nonsensical claim: “It should be evident that any criticism of UTech’s capacity to deliver quality education is a criticism of the institutions from which those experts got their training”.

Perhaps it should be evident. But it is not. Accreditation of a university’s academic programmes – the primary issue here – is not solely dependent on the qualifications of those who are offering training. And, in any case, I was not criticising UTech’s capacity. The quality of actual delivery may be quite different from capacity.

CARICOM ACCREDITATION

What Dr. Gyles fails to admit is that the University of Technology is not accredited by The Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP). As stated on its website, CAAM-HP “is the legally constituted body established in 2003 under the aegis of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), empowered to determine and prescribe standards and to accredit programmes of medical, dental, veterinary and other health professions education on behalf of the contracting parties in CARICOM”.

Furthermore, the website states that “CAAM-HP will serve as the means of providing the assurance of quality that generates confidence in the principal stakeholders, students and the public”. When I checked with the local office of CAAM-HP two Fridays ago, I was informed that several attempts have been made to get the University of Technology to begin the accreditation process. With no success.

Apparently resisting local/regional review, UTech has turned to the US-based Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA) to legitimise its academic programme. In his response to my column, Prof. Gyles states, “UTech’s dental programme is recognised by the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA), which assesses and approves dentists to practise in the United States and Canada. The CDCA is described as being like the GOLD standard for dental competency assessment.

“It is of note that UTech’s College of Oral Health Sciences became the first institution outside of North America to be approved by the CDCA. The current final-year cohort of students from UTech’s dentistry programme will be sitting the CDCA examinations in less than a month”.

FALSE IMPRESSION?

headerCDCAWhat, exactly, does CDCA recognition and approval mean? Nothing much, it would appear. Last Tuesday, I spoke to Dr. Ellis Hall, Director of Examinations at the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment. He immediately confirmed that the Commission is not an accrediting body. It administers exams. That’s it.

Professor Gyles argues that because UTech dental students are about to take the CDCA exams, “It therefore gives a completely false impression of the quality of the cohort of students who will shortly graduate from the programme as fully trained and qualified dentists for them to be described as ‘about to be let loose on an unsuspecting world’”.

The UTech graduates may very well be “fully trained and qualified dentists”. But this is another red herring. How many of us would suspect that the UTech dental degree programme is not accredited? Try as he might, Professor Gyles cannot deny the fact that UTech is pressing along with its dental programme, with no regard for the CARICOM accreditation requirements.

As for the platitude that “We cannot become so fiercely competitive that we tear each other apart and undermine the collective strength that we could muster in order to bolster our own collective survival and competitiveness in the wider world”. Professor Gyles clearly didn’t see my statement that we need more than one university in Kingston. The issue is not competition; it’s competitive advantage.

“SOME KIND OF POYTECHNIC”

Surprisingly, Professor Gyles doesn’t seem to appreciate the value of polytechnic education. He dismissively states, “The impression being given that UTech is some kind of polytechnic that simply tries to duplicate the offerings of traditional universities such as UWI is not true”. The College of Arts, Science and Technology was a polytechnic that did an excellent job of providing professional education. CAST graduates easily found jobs for which their UWI counterparts were unqualified.

imagesAnd it is true that some foolish administrators at UWI turned up their noses at academic programmes they considered beneath them. Like sports. Now, the University is desperately trying to catch up in some of these fields. But the solution to the problem of shortsightedness is not duplication of effort.

The administrators of both UTech and UWI need to sit down and talk about how the limited resources of both the nation and the region can be used to full advantage. Ensuring that all academic programmes are accredited is the first step.

University Fi Stone Dog in the UK?

Believe it or not, influential academics are insisting that there are far too many universities in the UK. Of course, they’re not using our colourful language – university fi stone dog! But it amounts to the same thing. Universities are in such plentiful supply that the issue of wasted resources is now on the national agenda.

imagesLast year, Sir Roderick Floud, former president of Universities UK, made an alarming public statement: half of UK universities should be closed. His remarks were carried by the Telegraph on June 19: “I believe we have too many universities, that they are trying to do too many different things, and that the way we fund their research is fundamentally flawed”.

Practically all universities in the UK are financed by government. So cynics might argue that Floud’s belief is just the backward opinion of an elitist, conservative administrator wanting to curtail public spending on higher education. There may be some truth to that. But Floud does have a point. In the 1990s, British polytechnics were magically transformed into universities with the wave of a wand, it would seem.

Instead of specialising in professional vocational education, polytechnics began to duplicate the offerings of traditional universities. I suppose it’s similar to what the University of Technology has been doing in recent years: replicating practically all the professional programmes offered by the University of the West Indies. Incidentally, UTECH hasn’t even applied for accreditation of its dental programme! And the first graduates are about to be let loose on an unsuspecting world.

This is how Floud sums up the problem: “We don’t need two or more universities in each of our major cities, glowering at each other and competing to attract the attentions of businesses and local authorities.

“Why does Leeds or Sheffield or Oxford, for example, need two vice-chancellors, registrars or groups of governors?

“In London, the situation is even more bizarre, with some 40 universities within the M25 [the motorway that circles the city] and more arriving by the day. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has remained supine in the face of evidence that all this is unnecessary and inefficient.”

OVERSUPPLY, DOUBTFUL QUALITY

hydel_univOf course, our situation is different. We do need more than one university in Kingston. There’s a huge market for tertiary education. But the twin problem of oversupply and doubtful quality can’t be conveniently forgotten. Last week, I was reminded of this issue in a conversation with Dr. Henley Morgan, who was appointed Chancellor of the former Hydel University College in December.

Yes, Hydel does have a Chancellor. As Dr. Morgan explains, “not a ceremonial role as is the custom throughout the Commonwealth university system, but rather the executive role of Instructional Leader, as it is used in the American community college system”. And he made an amusing admission: “It’s funny but 7 out of 10 persons I tell of my latest calling ask if I’ve read your articles on the subject of unregistered institutions and unaccredited courses”.

Dr. Morgan has not only read the articles; he’s taken immediate action. He’s prioritised and expedited the necessary process for Hydel’s registration as a tertiary education institution and hosted the University Council of Jamaica on a site visit. Dr. Morgan brought to my attention the fact that the sign proclaiming Hydel as a university was removed even before his appointment.

Perhaps my sceptical columns persuaded the founder/president, Mrs. Hyacinth Bennett, to set more realistic goals. In any case, I’m glad commonsense has prevailed. And I wish Chancellor Morgan well as he attempts to transform Hydel College into a viable tertiary institution.

NOT SETTLING FOR WAT-LEF

Then there’s another side to the business of oversupply of British universities that we can’t afford to ignore. Many institutions have resorted to exporting their programmes. We, in the Caribbean, are a targeted market. But we have to be careful that we’re not settling for wat-lef. And we do have our own academic programmes that we can export.

UnknownEarlier this month, the 3rd CARIFORUM-EU business forum took place in MoBay. Its purpose was to review economic partnership agreements and, hopefully, increase trade with Europe in three areas of our competitive advantage: agro-processing, music and higher education. I was invited to speak at a roundtable on higher education.

Focusing on the potential of creative industries programmes to transform academic institutions, I drew attention to the accomplishments of the Reggae Studies Unit at the University of the West Indies. Over the last two decades, scores of undergraduate and graduate students have come to the Mona campus from across the world to do research on Jamaican popular music and related cultural forms.

I also highlighted the innovative undergraduate degree programme in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management that was introduced by the Reggae Studies Unit in 2007. And I talked about the proposal I recently developed, in consultation with several colleagues, to establish a multi-disciplinary, cross-faculty Centre for the Creative Industries and Cultural Enterprise at UWI.

We must acknowledge the relationship between culture, creativity and economic development and use our talents to our own advantage. Or we will remain trapped in debt, constantly dependent on our former colonial masters to feed us with scraps from the table.