Mon | Oct 25, 2021

University enrolment remains steady despite COVID

Published:Friday | September 17, 2021 | 12:06 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

Enrolment in major universities across Jamaica has remained within normal parameters, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a shift to online learning. The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona registrar, Dr Donovan Stanberry, told The Gleaner that...

Enrolment in major universities across Jamaica has remained within normal parameters, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a shift to online learning.

The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona registrar, Dr Donovan Stanberry, told The Gleaner that enrolment was over 14,000, as at last week.

“Last year, for the entire year, we were at about 18,000. It is not alarming at this stage because registration goes up to the end of September,” he said.

Stanberry said the university registered a four per cent decline in enrolment last year, when compared to the 2019/2020 academic year.

“We are doing all we can to ensure that we don’t fall much further, but we can only have a complete picture when registration ends on the 30th of September and even after that, some late registrations may come in,” Stanberry said.

Students enrolled in 25 per cent of the programmes offered at the UWI will be required to attend face-to-face classes this semester.

“Principally, for those courses and programmes that require labs, for example, in the faculty of science and technology, the faculty of engineering and certainly the faculty of medicine for our third, fourth and fifth year students, who have to do clinical practice and so on,” he detailed.

Two weeks ago, UWI implemented a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for students desirous of living on campus.

Students who are unable to take the vaccine for religious or health-related reasons are to submit documentation from their religious body or doctor, for consideration on a case-by-case basis.

Stanberry told The Gleaner that the university has not taken a decision on whether the students in the aforementioned category will also be required to submit proof of vaccination.

“Living on hall is a slightly different scenario because there is a greater level of interaction and there is continuous engagement on a hall, as against in a classroom,” he reasoned.

He explained that there has been no syllabus change, as course content is altered based on new developments in a discipline and not by circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Acting president at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), Professor Colin Gyles, has asserted that enrolment numbers for the academic year is on a path to surpass last year’s figure.

As at September 8, 2020, enrolment was 2,247 and on September 8 this year, enrolment stood at 7,819.

“Enrolment is still in progress and hopefully will surpass last year’s total semester 1 enrolment of 10,590,” he said.

Programmes suspended

UTech has suspended its bachelor of science in mathematics and education and the bachelor of science in integrated health sciences due to low enrolment numbers.

Meanwhile, some courses of study in the College of Oral Health Sciences have been suspended based on guidelines from the university and the health ministry.

Essential practical components of certain courses of study, such as swimming, modules in hospitality and tourism management, clinicals and laboratory sessions will be conducted face to face.

While student enrolment numbers have not been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as previously anticipated, Gyles said there has been a serious decline in the university’s revenue due to the fact that the average student has been enroling in less modules, resulting in a dramatic decline in tuition revenue.

Further, activities in business services and consultancies have reduced significantly.

President of The Mico University College, Dr Asburn Pinnock, shared that current enrolment numbers are consistent with previous years and no fallout has been observed so far.

Similar to UWI, registration remains open until the third week of September.

“We have seen where online has become a legitimate platform for people to teach, so we have maximised on that. We would have much preferred for our students to enter a face-to-face environment, but any chance they get to get face-to-face exposure, we will try to find a way to accommodate it, but that is based on the school they are placed at,” he said of the student teacher practicum.

Pinnock explained that students have been given special instruction on how to teach on the online space, and reasoned that in years to come, there will be a market for such educators.

“For practical areas – sciences and food preparation – students make requests for face-to-face engagement and our administrators work out the logistics to bring small groups on campus,” he said.

The school’s task force also took a decision to suspend campus living for this semester, given the COVID-19 infection rate and the confirmation of a second variant in Jamaica.

Adapted for remote delivery

Meanwhile, at Northern Caribbean University (NCU), enrolment figures are at approximately 3,400, which is about 100 fewer than last year.

Director of communications, Byron Buckley, told The Gleaner that all courses which were not being offered through the distance education centre have been adapted for remote delivery.

“All programmes are being done using remote modalities, with those needing laboratory sessions being done with the use of simulations where possible, and face-to-face sessions in compliance with the public safety guidelines of the Government of Jamaica,” he explained.

Additionally, students in need of computer and/or Internet services will be allowed to use these facilities at all NCU campuses islandwide.

He said there is no vaccination mandate for the limited number of students who visit or reside on campus.

“However, all the Ministry of Health and Wellness COVID-19 protocols are promoted and adhered to. The decision about vaccination requirements is under constant review,” said Buckley.

Despite the COVID-19 challenges, the university was able to remain in a break-even financial position, while its alumni and other benefactors continue to provide scholarships and grants.