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New president says UB is a Baby Print E-mail
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Written by By Alfonso Noble   
Friday, 07 April 2017 00:00

Professor Clement Sankat arrived in Belize as the 7th President of University of Belize and on the 15th of February assumed the role. Sankat was born in Guyana and is a trained professional engineer. His teaching experience stems from teaching Engineering Graphics, Design and the Management of Innovation. He is also an expert in researches in engineering applications for Food and Agriculture: post-harvest technology and the utilization, processing and preservation of tropical agricultural commodities especially through refrigeration, drying and dehydration. This week we had the opportunity to have a sit down with him.

At this point in time, Professor Sankat says he is acquainting himself with the university, the people and their work. He says he’s been having meetings, listening, looking, learning and engaging all the faculties and campuses. So far Sankat says he’s been pinpointing challenges being faced by UB but as he does so, he’s also been able to identify some good work that the university has accomplished.
Speaking candidly about his role with the university, the professor addressed the comment that many have about UB, that is that it does not measure up to standards in quality of students as well as the limited research that originates from the institution.

To this he commented: “the University of Belize is by any standard of universities, a baby, the great universities of this world have been created after the middle ages. It is still in a cradle by any standards. The University of the West Indies is 70 years old,” he said and then he tackled the criticism. He first explained that UB must be taken in context of the role it is playing as an amalgam of various colleges including education, nursing, teaching, technical, business, and  agriculture- all being technical colleges. At this time he said the amalgamation has been accepted and the entities are now gelling. And as it does so, as the national university, UB’s role is to ensure that Belizean citizens from all walks of life and from all corners of Belize could get an opportunity for tertiary education. Because of this, Sankat noted that “this is the struggle. In more developed societies they have very good feeders into universities. Unfortunately, primary and secondary education in Belize needs to be strengthened. UB has been doing its part to give students who may not normally have a chance to get an opportunity at tertiary level education. That is why you have so many students doing associate degree level programs. Typically universities give students opportunities to do bachelor degrees which assumes that there is an entry qualification that allows them to move into bachelor programs as primary and secondary education improve that is going to happen.” He went on to explain that in typical universities the  entry requirements are at a higher level. He used the University of the West Indies as an example where you have CAPE passes for entry. Nonetheless he said that UB’s role need to continue to give students access into university as long as they meet certain standard for entry and have rigors set on standards for the output quality. “We have a long way to go and it is a delicate balance of access and quality,” said Sankat.

We also asked Sankat on the criticism that UB may not be producing graduates fit for Belize’s developmental needs. To this he responded that, “UB makes tremendous contributions providing teachers, nurses, agriculturalists, business graduates. In terms of human development that is occurring at UB it is contributing to Belize’s development. What is required is more of quality and relevance and other specializations like engineering, science technology and other areas.”

What’s more is Sankat’s admission that graduating mostly Associate degree holders is not enough. These graduates he said are not mature enough to enter the world of work. The university he reiterated should focus more on having students obtain at least an undergraduate degree.

Finally we asked Sankat what are the challenges that UB faces. First and foremost he said that the institution needs more academics with doctoral degrees who are trained in research. He notes that there is a shortage but it is a problem where UB is not able to attract high quality staff. That problem he said could be maybe because the best trained Belizeans are not returning home. The level of compensation that the university can afford is also a factor. “Attracting academics of high quality is a global competition where universities all over the world are competing for the best brains. We need to get into that competition.”

Another problem the institution faces is one where the physical infrastructure there is wanting in several areas including the classrooms, laboratories and the use of modern teaching technologies such as IT tools are not available. “There is a lot of work to be done, stated Sankat.” He added that, “the engineering department is undercapitalized and has not progressed in 15 years from being the technical college. It needs to be capitalized or recapitalize. We need to remake it. we are working on it but we need to identify capital.”

Asked what his priority will be as the new president of UB, the professor restated that it is to move from producing a vast majority of associates degree graduates to produce graduates with at least a first degree. His next priority he said would be to inculcate more research into the life of the university. There are good pockets of research at UB he said but these are largely unknown.
He ended by stating that, “the prospects look good if the University of Belize could get some resources to enhance physical and human capacity. The University of Belize needs the nation to come to its support, this is Belize’s national university- lets rally around it! Lets build UB together!.

Last Updated on Friday, 07 April 2017 13:16