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La Educación
Número: (123-125) I,III
Año: 1996

Tertiary Education

The growth of tertiary level institutions in Belize began in the 1950s with the establishment of two-year programs of post-secondary studies at sixth forms, following the British system of education. These institutions were established in recognition of the need to offer programs that would allow students to matriculate for university-level studies. The two largest sixth forms now in operation—St. John’s College Sixth Form and Belize Technical Sixth Form—were established in 1952 and 1960, respectively. Belize Technical had a heavy science focus while St. John’s (though it offered the sciences) had its strength in the Arts and Humanities. Other sixth forms were established but were forced to close down due to financial and human resource constraints. St. John’s and Belize Technical continued to operate as the two leading sixth forms until 1986, when two more institutions were established in the districts—Corozal Junior College and Stann Creek Ecumenical. The UCB Belmopan Junior College and Muffles Junior College in Orange Walk have been added to the list since 1991.

One of the major shifts in the focus of the curriculum of the sixth forms came in the mid 1960s with the move by St. John’s College to “provide wider opportunities for further education for graduates from the Sixth form by broadening its program of studies to meet the requirements of the Associates degree awarded by Junior colleges in the United States” (SJC Bulletin 1993-95). Students desirous of pursuing “A” levels are still able to do so while continuing studies toward an Associates Degree. While most of the other sixth forms still offer “A” level courses, they, too, are now heavily oriented to the US system with all offering an Associates Degree. This move opened up the gates to many opportunities for studies to the Bachelors level, since it gave students the option of choosing to study at regional universities, which required “A” levels for matriculation, or at universities in the United States that accepted the Associates Degree. Since the 1980s a large number of sixth form graduates have been able to pursue studies through numerous scholarship programs offered by regional and US universities.

One of the most dramatic moves in the development of tertiary education (beyond the sixth form level) came with the establishment and later dismantling of BELCAST—a move that was to show the influence of political ideologies and beliefs on education, and the strength of the state in the church-state partnership. Established in 1979, the Belize College of Arts Science and Technology (BELCAST) mounted courses in certain technological fields in an attempt to meet the demand for skilled workers who would become equipped with more advanced knowledge and skills than the programs that the sixth forms were offering (Bennett 1990). The strategy was to amalgamate all existing post-secondary institutions under the one body BELCAST. This strategy was to become the core of the problems for BELCAST.

When internal conflicts within Belize Teachers’ College surfaced in 1982, the government at the time seized the opportunity to begin the process of incorporating the post-secondary institutions. Belize Teachers’ College was incorporated into BELCAST and became known as the school of education of that institution. Four years later, and with the first change in political rule in four decades, the government made a dramatic move to dismantle BELCAST, revert Belize Teachers’ College to its former status, and open the University College of Belize (UCB) with affiliations with another US university.

According to The New Belize,7 “BELCAST’s monopoly was not in keeping with government’s declared aim of setting a new and free course in its educational policy.” Government felt that secondary school graduates should have choices when pursuing further education locally. The article went on to say that “bringing all tertiary level institutions under one umbrella would not only lessen choices but could effectively strangle competition among those institutions...and that the traditional role of the church in education in Belize was being down-played by BELCAST.”

For the four years of its existence as the umbrella institution, BELCAST operated out of the Belize Teachers’ College’s campus. Plans for the construction of a building for BELCAST in Belmpoan were cancelled by the government and the funds were re-negotiated to pay for the Belize City Hospital.

The University College of Belize was established in 1986 after BELCAST was dismantled. It operated out of the Belize Teachers’ Campus from 1986 until 1989, when it was relocated to its present site. It has since expanded its programs to offer undergraduate degree programs in secondary and business education, and diplomas and certificates in several other areas. UCB’s population has grown from 105 in its first year of operation to 450 students enrolled in either the part-time or full-time program in 1994, a clear sign that this level of education has become more accessible to Belizeans. However “aspects of UCB’s mission that has remained unfulfilled include the goal of equitable access, as most students continue to come from the central, western and northern regions of the country; and closer articulation with other tertiary institutions to move towards an integrated yet decentralized system of higher education.”8

Within the last decade, opportunities available to obtain a tertiary level education have increased significantly. The response of most institutions has been to make this level of schooling accessible. Of greater importance is the quality of the education students are receiving in these institutions. The speed with which most of these institutions are formed also gives rise to the question of sound planning. Planning for programs at this level usually takes a number of years. UCB “was born almost overnight,” as are many other junior colleges that have been established recently. In his presentation on higher education, Bennett (1990) pointed to the “lack of skillful planning” as one of the major shortcomings of the efforts to develop quality institution of higher education in Belize. In support of this view, he quoted the President as saying that:
for most fledgling universities, there is a charter, then a council, then a campus, then an operating university... we had an operating university first; then a couple of months ago, a charter; today our council has its historic first sitting and later this month we move to our campus.9
This conclusion was again drawn by the task force which conducted the study of ATLIB institutions earlier this year. The report concluded “it is noteworthy that most schools are not yet engaged in long term planning. The necessary link between the school’s mission statements, its goals and objectives, its program of activities, and evaluation are generally conceived on a year to year basis.”