Mischief is afoot. The legacy of Patrick Augustus Mervyn Manning is once again under attack; the perpetrators, Dr Keith Rowley and this PNM administration, will surely obliterate his name from the history books of Trinidad and Tobago by the time their tenure is over.
This time the target is the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) which was birthed in 2004 after Manning’s government sought to address the problem of low enrollments at the tertiary level. The statistics showed that only about 7% of the population achieve tertiary education status compared to 30% at the global level.
UTT was launched with a mandate to increase access to tertiary education; provide opportunities for all citizens to obtain degrees once they so desired, and develop an attractive product not only for our students but all students across the wider Caribbean. Mr Manning also introduced the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme, so that nationals interested in pursuing tertiary education would not be deprived because of lack of funds.
The final bastion for UTT
The academic year 2004 – 2005 was a watershed period in our history as tertiary education enrollment was bolstered by some 40%, surpassing the benchmark of developed countries. This was primarily due to two reasons – the GATE programme which covered up to 100% of tuition fees for undergraduate programmes; and the UTT.
It was naturally expected that any government would which to continue and even build on both programmes. It is therefore to Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s credit, that the People’s Partnership government did not in any way tamper with the logistics designed that allowed our citizens to benefit from Patrick Manning’s dream.
As long as GATE and UTT remained untouched, our young people would benefit from Patrick Manning’s vision. However, early in its tenure, the Rowley administration sought to disrupt the GATE programme on the premise that it was corrupted, that undeserving people were accessing the programme. They then initiated a means test that set out to determine that applicants should pay for education based on their income or their parents’ income.
It could be said that at this point damage to our human capital development began. Fewer enrollments were recorded at the tertiary levels; even though the government paid a percentage of fees, many young people could not afford to pay the balance due. At the UTT, some faculties, including the Sports Faculty virtually collapsed. GATE was closed as far as many were concerned, and the dream of every citizen having access to free tertiary education died under the heavy hand and rule of Dr Keith Christopher Rowley and his administration.
The changing of the guards and the final bastion for UTT occurred on June 1, 2020. This signalled the end of an era and the final nail in the coffin for Manning’s Vision 2020, which many hoped would have been achieved to liberate those whose social deficit made learning especially inaccessible.
Professor Ken Julien has had his ups and downs as a leader and a visionary in this country. At one time he was a member of 12 boards but it is his acumen and knowledge, especially in the field of engineering, that positioned him as one to be admired locally, regionally and internationally.
He had his struggles recently with the issue of recall, where many who spoke so affably about him were stymied that his long-term memory and ability to remember in detail, matters that took place decades ago was unsurpassed, but who remain empathetic with the man whose short-term memory just faded.
Professor Julien was critical to the development of UTT and facilitated the opening of doors in the global academic arena through which many would never have been able to unlock. Consequently, one would have thought that a smoother transition into the sunset of his life would have been offered rather than what seems a tad austere in the shove he received to other pastures.
Professor Julien understood that his end was in sight. Under his watch, he saw the exodus of the O’Meara Campus and the migration of professors. He would have realized that since this administration’s term, there was no future insight.
Professor Clem Imbert who deputized for Professor Ken Julien during his periods of illness no doubt would have debriefed him about the closure of some of UTT’s faculties – faculties which were the creations of Professor Julien – and government’s intentions to have a different use for some of the campuses like the O’Meara Campus and the Corinth Campus. This no doubt would have grieved Professor Julien.
If this PNM administration wanted to keep Manning’s legacy alive, it would have done things differently and started a conversation with Prof. Julien who may have advised that the Minister of Finance’s uncle not take over the reins at UTT at this time.
UTT has not been given a chance to succeed
Prof Julien and others of similar ilk represented a paradigm shift in education, where the leaders of these august universities possess an entrepreneurial spirit that makes them independent of government. It was this model and this philosophy of the entrepreneur that buttressed the success of UTT under Manning and Julien. It was Julien’s vast network which provided the foundational support for its glory days and which gave UTT a name; gave to the students their integrity, and provided hope that one-day UTT would be the Harvard or Yale of the Caribbean.
The model of continuity has never been adopted by this administration. Alas! Prof Ken Julien was not even given the chance to recommend a successor. Seeking to harvest the mind of such an erudite man and to chart a course for the future of this University was never on their mind. Instead, his termination letter was well-written and given with an apparition of empathy.
When the termination letter was delivered to him, the vehicle that came with the job of Chairman of UTT Board was immediately taken away and the chauffeur removed. Once again, another black man bites the dust. The fact that this was happening mere months before the 2020 General Election made no difference to the Rowley administration.
No one remembered that “the Prof” at age 87, was not driving and no one thought it congenial and benevolent enough to allow him an extended service of the use of the Chairman’s vehicle because of the yeoman work he had performed for both country and UTT. With Rowley and Clem Imbert, it was simply a DONE DEAL!
All attempts are being made to destroy Manning’s legacy
It is at such times that Patrick Manning will be missed. It is at these crossroads, despite all attempts to destroy his legacy, that his name will be remembered. For such malevolence would have never been a part of the social repertoire of this man the Rowley administration wants us to forget.
A country will never advance when the bright lights of those who illuminate our paths are snuffed out. This was a man to whom the Point Lisas development owes its very existence. This was a man who revolutionised this country’ natural gas and was instrumental in creating a second gas boom. Having significantly cut UTT’s funding; having decimated its academic staff; having removed courses from its syllabus without even speaking with the students’ representatives; having closed down several campuses to make places available for SEA students, UTT has now fully entered the dark ages. Dark ages which will surely perpetuate if we seek to wipe clean, the memories of the ones who give us hope.
We can only beg this current administration and the next in line to not leave Professor Ken Julien in the wilderness, but seek to garner from him the wisdom that has caused so many students across the world to affably refer to him as “the Prof.”
We can only beg this current administration and the next in line to not tamper with Patrick Manning’s legacy, whose desire to advance the youthful minds is unprecedented and unmatched even by those who promised to put our youth first.