In the first of our âMy Cayman 2.0â column series, economist and former UCCI professor Thomas Phillips advocates for a transformative change in the way higher education is delivered to the Caymans.
For the past 16 years, Cayman has faced the challenges of the physical devastation of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 and the instability in international finance that came with the Great Recession that began in 2007. Now, as the rest of the world, Cayman faces the unknown prospects of the post-COVID-19 era.
The consequences of COVID-19 appear to be quite different from the challenges of Ivan and the Great Recession. There is a general feeling that the disruption due to COVID-19 will be deeper and longer lasting than either of the previous shocks.
When I arrived in the Cayman Islands in August 2004, I was part of an ambitious initiative to launch the University College of the Cayman Islands. Even with Ivan’s intervention, UCCI has survived and continues to grow – albeit slowly.
As for the post-COVID-19 Caymans, one of the opportunities being discussed is how higher education could play a bigger role for the Caymans.
I think this is the perfect time for Cayman to take advantage of the opportunity and aim to become an international higher education destination.
COVID-19 has, to date, had a disproportionately negative impact on Cayman tourism. Tourism activity is unlikely to reach pre-COVID-19 Cayman levels, even in 2021.
The devastating impact of this situation on the Cayman economy is an indication of the economic vulnerability of an economy dominated by only two sectors – tourism and international financial services. Cayman needs economic diversification.
Economies of scope
To pursue a new industry, it is not necessary to develop it from scratch. One approach is to determine how existing resources can be recombined to serve a new sector.
This, in economics, is the search for economies of scope. The economies of scope are distinctly different, and much more relevant to Cayman’s current circumstances, than the economies of scale.
Cayman has no choice but to bank on its human resources – the skills and expertise of its workforce. There is no doubt that Cayman is teeming with a highly skilled workforce in its primary industries.
Due to the technological needs of its primary industries, Cayman is fortunate to have sophisticated telecommunications and computer technologies. And Cayman is blessed with its natural environment and culture.
The question in terms of economies of scope is: how can Cayman’s existing resources be combined to serve a different market? Higher education must be considered for the sake of Cayman’s organic growth and its potential as a center of higher education.
Globally, higher education will never return to its pre-COVID-19 ârealityâ.
Successful higher education institutions will offer a diverse set of hybrid learning experiences. That is, combinations of e-learning using technology and its ability to access information and people, with hands-on, face-to-face learning that will be delivered intensively rather than incrementally over traditional academic terms.
With the inevitable changes in the delivery of higher education, now is the perfect time for Cayman to leverage its existing resources to make a concerted effort to build on its reputation for excellence in tourism and financial services. to take a competitive position in higher education.
The journey to higher education
With the COVID-19 epidemic, governments, businesses, schools, universities, and families have quickly shifted to online interactions – out of necessity. To the surprise of many, it worked very well.
So much so, in fact, that there are more and more organizations giving up office space and the traditional workweek on site because recent experience has shown the effectiveness of the alternative. once dreaded technological innovation.
Higher education around the world has changed forever in the past six months. The post-COVID-19 era of higher education is uncertain, however, there are new opportunities in higher education for Caymans.
While higher education should serve to prepare students for the world of work, it is not limited to training graduates to acquire specific skills.
Cayman Higher Education has an obligation to prepare graduates for the needs of Cayman’s labor market. However, it takes more than providing the training required to do today’s jobs. Graduates also need to be able to adapt to new demands, find ways to improve – rather than just repeat – tasks and discover innovative technologies and practices of the future.
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Cayman’s workforce in international financial services and tourism combines the practical skills needed to excel at performing practical tasks with the education needed to be innovative and at the forefront of fields.
This successful combination of training and education must be the foundation for Cayman’s opportunity in higher education.
To be independent and financially viable, Cayman’s higher education must serve more than Cayman’s needs.
To be an international higher education destination, it will need more graduates than the Caymans can absorb in its labor market. Excellence in higher education will ensure the retention of Caymanian students and the attraction of international students.
The experience of the past six months has left behind the traditional model of higher education. This does not mean that the best of the traditional model will be abandoned. What will emerge will be more varied delivery methods.
Some deliveries will be entirely online; some will be completely face to face. The majority will be a combination of the two depending on the different educational philosophies of the institutions and the practical nature of the subject. That is, some academic fields require more practical learning and assessment than others.
Cayman should consider undertaking his own transformation of higher education. Choosing an innovative approach to academic delivery that combines online learning – which can be done anywhere – with face-to-face delivery can be the starting point for a transformation.
Success in this time of transformation will require bold strategies to redefine the way students learn.
The start and end dates of the terms, the length of the courses, the right balance between online and face-to-face learning, and the intensity of the delivery (for example, more hours of teaching per week for fewer weeks) will be the defining characteristics of the higher education institutions of tomorrow.
Cayman has all the components necessary to redefine its place, internationally, in higher education. The time has come. This is an opportunity with tremendous economic and social benefits that the Caymans could enjoy for generations to come. Carpe Diem.
My Cayman 2.0: Your Vision of Cayman’s Future
We are looking for contributions from guest columnists on the topic âMy Cayman 2.0â.
Contributions should focus on the one big idea Cayman should embrace as part of its vision for the future. Ideally, contributions should be around 500-1000 words.
Submissions can be sent to [emailÂ protected].
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