Monday, July 19, 2010


It was the extreme far sightedness of India's first Prime Minister, Jawarhalal Nehru, that caused to be founded the Indian Institute of Technology ("IIT"). Today the IIT is by far and away the world's premier Information Technology school and one in which the world's best and brightest students try their hardest to get in. The students who apply to the IIT have listed as their second and third choices such prestige schools as Oxford in England and MIT in the United States. The IIT not only has the highest entrance standards in the world (thus making it the most difficult university in the world to get into) but also is the most difficult to stay in once you are there. Successful entrants to the university cannot rest on their laurels, but they must keep their grade averages at the university's extremely high levels. The result is that graduates of the IIT are literally fought over by the world's leading IT companies. The heads of Microsoft and IBM, for example, are graduates of the IIT! Indeed, more than 90% of the companies in California's famed Silicon Valley have IIT graduates as their CEO's! And everybody is keenly aware that India itself is now forging ahead in the IT sector.

So, that got me thinking: Sorry to say it, but the truth is that the University of the West Indies is a third rate university. You are offended by this statement? Test it yourself: Take a young UWI graduate in any field you like and let him apply for a job where his competition is a graduate of, say, Oxford, or Boston University, or McGill University, or any other top university in the world (you pick the school) and guess who will get the job? The UWI grad? Please! Give me a break! He would be lucky just to get a seat in the waiting room. But we can't really do a thing with UWI. There are too many other islands involved and a raising of UWI's low standards would be politically difficult, if not impossible. By the way, this is not to say that there haven't been bright and able young people passing through UWI's halls of learning. There have been ... a lot! Our brightest kids are well able to compete on the world stage despite the handicap of third rate schools. (You could only imagine how far they could go if they had first rate schools ... but that isn't the thrust of this post). The problem (to paraphrase Shakespeare) lies not in the students, but in the quality of the school that is UWI. It ain't the best!

So, as I said, that got me thinking. We can't do anything about UWI, but why don't we do something with the University of Trinidad & Tobago ("UTT")? UTT is right now probably worse than fifth rate. It's entrance standards are abysmally low and it seems that the men who founded it were more concerned about fooling those persons who are admitted into UTT that their degree will be worth something, when the reality is that a degree from UTT is about the equivalent of a diploma from a not very good trade school. Again, if I sound harsh it is because the truth is harsh. This world is not going to be kind to us simply because we like to boast about God being a Trinidadian.

No. In order to compete in the twenty-first century we too have to become the best. We have got to raise our stadards up ... not lower them for the cheap convenience of a few votes. And we should look to do so in areas in which we already have a home grown advantage.

What am I talking about? In a word ... energy! Did you know that the first oil well in the world was drilled in Trinidad? We have an abundance of expertise in the energy sector that has made us leaders all over the world. You can find Trinidadians in Houston, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Nigeria ... andthe list goes on. I would like to bet that on a per capita basis (and no, I do not have any statistics to prove this) we have more people in the enrgy sector than anywhere else in the world. So, why don't we capitalise on this and make UTT the premier energy university in the world the same way that the IIT is the premier school for information technology in the world? It could be done ... and with a little effort it could bring fantastic benefits to Trinidad & Tobago. For example, while when we Trinis talk about energy we really mean oil and gas, the UTT could become a twenty-first century school specialising in all types of energy ... wind , solar, etc. We don't have to be limited to oil and gas. With a first class specialst university at home we could retain our effective dominance in the energy sector indefinitely. And why not? We could do it ... if we really wanted to!

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