By Rodney D. Smith, Ed.D.
President and CEO
University of The Bahamas
My father died when I was very young leaving my mother to raise four young children all on her own. By the age of 11, just like my older siblings, I too had to find work to make ends meet. I packed groceries at a nearby Winn Dixie after school and on weekends. This was a tough time for the family without my dad, but we did our best.
When it was time to graduate from St. Augustine’s College, I was determined to become the first person in my family to go to college. I applied to St. John’s University and they accepted me provisionally and even gave me a partial scholarship. This was a pivotal moment for me because I knew the value of a good education and what it could mean for my family. I was blessed with another partial scholarship from Winn Dixie; these scholarships made my dream of earning a university degree possible. The two merged as a beacon of hope, charting my educational life toward unexpected yet exciting new frontiers. In my second year in college, with support from my mother, the Bahamas Government granted me a bonded scholarship.
Providing access to education for all Bahamians is a national imperative, it is the cornerstone of the University of The Bahamas mission, “to advance and expand access to higher education, promote academic freedom, drive national development and build character through teaching, learning, research scholarship and service.” Education is undoubtedly a key marker of a progressive nation.
This summer marks the continued fulfilment of this mission by the Government of The Bahamas introducing The Bahamas Government Tertiary Education Grant Programme. This grant increases the participation rate in higher education for all Bahamians across the archipelago from Grand Bahama to Inagua.
Statistics underscore that university graduates have a better quality of life, contribute to rippling benefits for their families and communities and help to build and develop the nation in myriad ways. I state as often as I can, that the national tertiary grant programme will provide more students access to education and will produce the human capital necessary to make our nation more resilient, competitive and dynamic.
In order to receive the new grant funding under this programme, students are required to follow stringent admissions requirements to enter UB; this has not changed. Bahamian citizens fully enrolled, taking a minimum of 12 credits per semester must maintain a minimum satisfactory academic requirement of a 2.0 GPA. However, students in Nursing must maintain a 2.75 GPA and Education majors a 3.00 GPA to continue receiving additional stipends.
Many students have expressed such gratitude for the chance to attend university now without the worry of having to pay tuition. They can now focus on what really matters, receiving a sound education while working hard and growing personally and professionally.
Looking back, without those initial scholarships I would not have been able to fly and eventually land at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for my doctoral degree in Education. Public private partnerships remain crucial to the lifeblood of this institution. We are forever grateful to all donors and friends of UB who continue to give to our students. UB students are being prepared to live better lives in a global society, however, there are still many financial needs in the lives of our students that can still be covered through continued generosity. As an institution, we encourage all students in their third semester to study abroad, then come home and graduate from University of The Bahamas.
Let us celebrate more opportunities for access to education for future generations. Let us give them wings to soar, be a beacon of hope and provide the resources they need to not only dream but achieve. The Bahamas will ultimately reap the dividends from their success and be all the more better as a result.
In closing, I encourage readers to take a look at a 2016 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, entitled “The Economic Impact of Universities: Evidence from across the Globe”, (Working Paper 22501 http://www.nber.org/papers/w22501). The researchers, after examining databases of nearly 15,000 universities in about 1,500 regions across 78 countries, found that increases in the number of universities are positively associated with future growth of GDP per capita (and this relationship is robust to controlling for a host of observables, as well as unobserved regional trends). Their estimates imply that doubling the number of universities per capita is associated with four percent higher future GDP per capita. This is similar to increasing access to higher education. It is what the Government Tertiary Grant allows for Bahamians. Their study further indicated positive spill over effects from universities to geographically close neighbouring regions. They showed the relationship between growth and universities is not simply driven by the direct expenditures of the university, its staff and students. Part of the effect of universities on growth is mediated through an increased supply of human capital and greater innovation.