University brings accreditation home: Minister: “I will recognize the university within two weeks”

POSTED: 09/24/15 12:25 PM

St. Maarten – Education Minister Rita Bourne-Gumbs did not have much to say yesterday morning at the celebratory meeting at the university on Pond Island, but her brief remark was met with smiles and applause: “Within two weeks the government will give recognition to the university as an institution of tertiary education.”

The minister said that her team had been working hard on the issue and that she had intended to present a surprise to the university. “Unfortunately, they did not work on weekends,” she joked, “so the task is not completed yet.”

The university convened a meeting to inform stakeholders about the accreditation process. USM’s division head hospitality and tourism management Erwin Wolthuis explained how the university had arrived at choosing Pearson BTEC QCF accreditation (Qualifications and Credit Framework), a European association that also does out of territory accreditation. QCF makes it possible for local students to go from secondary school through three years at the local university for their associate degree, followed by one year in the UK for their bachelors.

Wolthuis said that the accreditation applies to students that are currently in their first year but that is not possible to back date accreditation for students who are already further down the line. “However, it has never been a problem for our students to continue their studies in the United States,” he said.

The university has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the hospitality and trade association SHTA that gives students access to internships at large local hospitality businesses like the Sonesta hotels.

The university has articulation agreements with the University of the Virgin Islands, Monroe College in New York and Johnson and Wales University, a non-profit career-oriented university with four campuses in the United States.

The articulation agreements ensure that students understand exactly which courses will and will not transfer so that they do not spend time on local courses that do not satisfy their bachelor’s degree requirements.

“History is being made today at the university,” said Natasha Gittens, director of the St. Martin School of Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning (SCELL). The school is now a Global Academic Partner of the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute and it has become “the business arm of the university.”

SCELL holds a workshop for certified guest service professional on November 18. For this workshop, Gittens said, the university has approached all islands in the Easter Caribbean. “The class is already half-filled,” she said yesterday. “We want to serve surrounding islands as well and thereby become the region’s flagship university.”

University President Francio Guadeloupe noted that Education Minister Bourne-Gumbs had told him, “I am going to be the minister that is going to recognize the university and to up its subsidy.”

The minister almost immediately made good on the first half of that promise yesterday morning. As for the subsidy, last year and this year there was 850,000 guilders in the budget for the university, 400,000 guilders more than in 2013. The minister did not say anything about what the 2016 budget has in store for the university.

Guadeloupe noted that the university, together with the Observatoire on the French side, will conduct a survey into how healthy St. Maarten is.


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