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New Approach to Funding Tertiary Education: Shaping the 21st Century Mona Campus

KINGSTON: Nov 2016 [MONA News}: The leadership of The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, is on a mission to make this the region’s most modern and sought-after institution, using a development model which could become the go-to for other campuses and institutions.

In recent years, there have been several changes: a new medical building, new halls of residence, restaurants and banking facilities. Strapped for cash but determined not to borrow, Mona’s Principal Professor Archibald McDonald and his team are pursuing a series of public/private Partnerships that have breathed new life into the 68 year-old institution.

The slow steady pace of development is being ramped up: old buildings are giving way to new ones, old facilities refreshed and equipment upgraded. The plans are as ambitious as they are optimistic and expensive, but the University is racing full speed ahead. Surprisingly, the institution is not spending a single cent. Speaking with Mona Magazine recently, Professor McDonald outlined a raft of initiatives that aim to reshape the sprawling Mona Campus into an ultra-modern institution offering its students a world-class education in line with corporate needs, the very best in accommodation, student services and comfort.

Mona’s student housing development model is now seen as the standard for cash-strapped colleges and institutions, and is to be rolled out across the entire UWI system. Who would have known that a rather contentious induction speech just over three years ago would result in a prolific and rewarding relationship between the Mona Campus and the private sector.

“During my induction speech I noted that governments over the years had not done enough for the University… and I challenged the private sector to do more. It has paid off,” Professor McDonald said with a chuckle. He noted that the “relationship between the private sector and the university has never been closer”. On one hand, UWI is getting what it needs in development: technological and industry support through several Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) and Private/Public Partnerships, while the investors salve their corporate responsibility needs and makes a profit.

A partnership between The UWI, Mona and 138 Student Living – a subsidiary of K-Limited – to refurbish, remodel and operate its halls of residence, has revolutionised the management of student housing. Irvine Hall is being refurbished, demolishing some of the old buildings to make way for new ones, adding another 1,100 rooms to bring world-class accommodation and ‘home comforts’ to campus living. And this is only the beginning.

The agreement for the construction of 1,584 houses at a cost of $4 billion over three years should increase the number of rooms on the Mona Campus to about 6,000. The first 480 units have already been delivered, 500 will be handed over soon and the balance, scheduled for handover in 2017. This makes the University the largest single owner of ‘hotel’ rooms on the island.

“Because of the cash flow problems we have not been able to maintain the facilities properly, so outsourcing gives us the opportunity to do the renovations which are necessary and have world-class accommodation for our students,” Professor McDonald explained.

New housing is only one component of the overall strategy to increase revenues, Mona’s principal continued: “We are trying to increase the number of international students. It has been slow, but what we have done is to attract more regional students especially from Trinidad and Tobago. Whenever you bring students from outside of Jamaica, you need to provide accommodation for them”.

K Limited and UWI’s other partners will recover their investments from the savings and earnings. Ambitious as this is, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

The next three to five years will see major changes on Campus, among them the conversion of the 15-room Mona Visitors’ Lodge & Conference Centre into a 150-room hotel; and the development of College Common. Replacing the Mona Visitors’ Lodge will improve the offerings at what is already a “very nice place for weddings” to provide modern conference facilities and a one-of-a-kind wedding location.

Over at College Common, the UWI-owned residential property, things are about to change. The 100-acre property which is currently home to some of the University’s senior academic and adminstrative staff, is a laid-back community of colonial-style homes on up to an acre of land. Its current layout makes it difficult to secure and maintain, Professor McDonald said, noting: “College Common has been there for 60-odd years, it is exactly as the British left it, only it is much worse as the houses are in disrepair.”

A mix of town houses, apartments and up-scale homes, some of which will be offered as high-end rentals to companies and Embassies, will replace the run-down old houses, provide staff with updated facilities and the university with much-needed revenue to continue funding the extensive development plans that are being rolled out.

There is no doubt this project could reap big benefits. After all, the Mona Campus sits on some prime lands, in a coveted zip code. And pulling everything together, an ultra-modern Campus/Student centre housing a modern auditorium for university functions including the annual graduation exercise, the housing of the students’ union, a place where students meet, study or just hang out. In addition to the coffee shops, meeting and reading rooms, the centre is expected to be a hub of activity for the 18,000 students on roll.

But plans would not be complete without an adequate supply of water and cost-effective energy. In fact, the co–generation plant that is already cooling several of the buildings on campus will also provide electricity. Once completed, the plant is expected to only reduce the campus’ dependence on the national grid, and slash energy costs by as much as 50 percent – that translates to roughly $50 million dollars in monthly savings.

In addition, the University’s well-publicised water woes are about to disappear. A new well providing 750,000 gallons a day will more than satisfy the campus’ 500,000-gallon daily requirement, saving an additional $20 million in water charges. With all these coming together, Professor McDonald is delighted.

“If you were to look at our audited statements we would not be able to afford all of this,” he said. But the private/public partnership agreements have allowed the University to improve campus facilities and the value of the services on offer.

“I see this as a new model for the funding of tertiary education,” McDonald said, noting that institutions need money to stay competitive amidst growing competition.

And how much will all this development cost? On the conservative side, more than US$2 billion. What is important, however, is that The University will not spend ‘one red cent’, as the saying goes. As Professor McDonald puts it, Corporate Jamaica is finally seeing the value of partnering with the institution.

The benefits are mutual, ranging from product design, development and testing to skills transfer, professional development and income generation; and for students, industry-specific training, internships and scholarships.

Investors including local corporations like the Jamaica Public Service, the French giant Total, and US marijuana company CITIVA, all fund projects that improve their products and outputs, and add to their bottom line. And the improvements to the Mona Campus are not all.

Over at the University Hospital of the West Indies, in addition to the installation of a fully computerised medical filing system, slated for completion early next year, architectural designs for a major rebuilding project are on the ‘drawing board’. Several buildings will be demolished and replaced, Professor McDonald said.

This year, as the University prepares to begin clinical trials of marijuana extracts to treat epilepsy in children and chronic pain; the expansion and relocation of the Western Jamaica Medical Campus has begun and negotiations are underway for the construction of a modern medical facility on the site of the new campus to take advantage of the growing medical tourism market.

Even so, The UWI Mona continues to look for ways to leverage the many opportunities available, with entrepreneurs with the acumen and fortitude to take up the challenges. Take the Usain Bolt Track for instance. There are plans for a gym and winter sports centre around the state-of-the art running track.

“We just need someone to manage the process, but then that might be for my successor,” Professor McDonald said thoughtfully.

And there are so many things to do. With world-class athletes and universities lining up to experience the training that made the ‘Big Man’ a legend – and the opportunities presented by an Olympic-sized swimming pool –Mona’s standing as the home of the athlete dubbed the ‘Living Legend” is destined to soar.

-Zadie Neufville

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Unravelling the Science behind Ganja

The original article appears in UWI Pelican Magazine

Cannabis also called Solomon’s Weed, Ganja or Marijuana, is hailed as God’s gift to medicine but only a handful of institutions including UWI’s Mona Campus are studying the properties and possible medicinal applications

By Zadie Neufville
The University of the West Indies has revived the ganja research programme it began in the 1970s as it prepares to launch Jamaica as a global “powerhouse” for cannabis research; as famous for its products and services as it already is for reggae and the good ‘ol sensi weed’.

UWI’s Mona Campus in Kingston is one of the few places in the world where marijuana research can take place from plant breeding, through to clinical trials. The country’s international reputation – the ganja culture, music and athletic success – has brought many to the UWI in search of research collaborations.IMG_7735_1

There is new energy and excitement as researchers leverage over four decades of experience in cannabis research, even as they await the completion of regulations that will guide recent amendments to the Dangerous Drug Act.

“We have the knowledge and we have the expertise to make Jamaica and the Mona Campus a major centre, the leading authority and we are positioned to use our Jamaica brand to drive the programme,” Principal of the UWI’s Mona Campus Professor Archibald McDonald, said in an interview with the Pelican.

Best known for the euphoric effect of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), Cannabis is said to contain more than 60 other chemical compounds. It is these other elements that the UWI and its partners want to exploit in its mission to treat a host of complaints for which modern medicines have no answer.

Researchers are particularly excited by the possibilities of the cannabinoids (CBDs), a group of chemicals referred to as terpenophenolic compounds, also known as terpins.

Scientists at UWI’s research partner Citiva Medical are also excited by the promise of ‘terpens’, particularly after the team successfully developed cannabis-derived products to treat a number of ailments. Citiva is the company behind Charlotte’s Web – a strain of cannabis with less than 0.3 % THC – which is being used to treat paediatric epilepsy.

Prior to being treated with the cannabis extract, 8-year-old Charlotte Figi reportedly suffered up to 300 seizures a day due to a rare form of epilepsy, even while on traditional medicines. The extract from Charlotte’s Web and continued success of the treatments using the oil is one of several success stories from Citiva.

The strain of cannabis named Charlotte’s Web for the little American girl, is being grown at the UWI and will be studied with a view to standardising the extracts. The aim is to ensure that every cannabis plant used for medicine has exactly “the same levels of the specific chemical compounds” required to target specific illnesses, with the same results.

In the medicinal cannabis world, Citiva’s executive director Josh Stanley is a rock star. Described as ‘telegenic’ in his approach to the marketing of cannabis as the future of medicine, both Stanley and the equally visionary McDonald share the belief that research in cannabis goes way beyond smoking the weed.

“We are interested in the whole plant, getting away from the single compound and into the promise of its biology – a multi-compound approach to its natural properties,” Stanley said.

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Professor Archibald McDonald, Principal – UWI Mona

McDonald noted: “We are using our permit effectively to help us to establish a Centre of excellence in cannabis research in the Caribbean. We want the Mona Campus to become the leader in Cannabis research internationally”.

 

And there is no shortage of researchers willing to help him build UWI’s reputation and join the quest to find treatment for a long list of complaints. In addition to examining the use of cannabis in the treatment of diabetes, epilepsy, cancer and chronic pain, the UWI Medicinal Cannabis Research Group (UWI-MCRG) is also contemplating the possibilities for its use in anaesthesia and psychiatry among other areas.

Since 2010 UWI’s Forensic Unit under the leadership of Professor Wayne McLaughlin has diligently mapped the DNA of cannabis to among other things, help police identify key ganja growing areas on the island. These days, the data is being repurposed and put to more beneficial uses, he said.

McLaughlin noted that chemical and gene profiling have allowed researchers to classify cannabis plants not only by the names the farmers give them, but also by the plants’ colouring, their unique chemical compositions as well as by the genes that will make them less susceptible to contamination from heavy metals and other impurities.

“Now we are not only able to track the plants but also look at other genes that are important to the plant and its survival. We can now identify those plants with high and low THC and CBD levels as well as identify male and female plants,” the forensic scientist said.

The UWI-MC Research Group are light years ahead of the authorities and were ready with scores of project ideas covering all areas of medicine and science by the time the University received its exemption permit last year.
“The lobby (for legalisation) had the widest cross section of people and professions I’ve ever seen,” Professor McDonald laughed. The result, he explained, is that the UWI is already working on scores of projects ranging from basic science studies to pre-clinical and clinical studies, all in an effort to expand knowledge of the therapeutic uses of cannabis.

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Marijuana researchers on the Caribbean island of Jamaica are planning to develop new pharmaceutical products following the partial decriminalisation of cannabis. (AP/David McFadden)

At the same time, the medicinal research is being enhanced by the ongoing chemical and DNA analyses of the plant. McLaughlin agreed that with so much of the gene sequencing and identification of the chemicals already done, the work done by his team has slashed several years from the expected start-up of clinical trials. It also makes possible the start of the planned Pain Clinic by year’s end, just about coinciding with the start of clinical trials at the University Hospital of the West Indies.

The United States medical marijuana industry is expected to earn as much as US 13billion dollars by 2019 up from US 2.7 billion dollars in 2014. It is expected that the UWI and indeed Jamaica can earn a significant share of the global market from pharmaceuticals, bringing jobs and much needed development. But there will be no products to smoke at the UWI’s Medical Research facilities, even with the 100 million US dollars in monthly sales the US State of Colorado reportedly makes from medical marijuana.

“We aim to change their perception that Jamaica is about a bunch of Rastas and white women getting high,” researcher Carole Lindsay said chuckling. She has been leading the chemical analysis of every strain of Cannabis the University collects from farmers.

A professional chemist, Lindsay noted that creating the chemical profiles of the plants found in Jamaica is critical to protecting both the country’s and the University’s interests.

“Our local strains of cannabis are vulnerable because we assume that with all the interest in ganja, people could be bringing in plants to grow them here. We also know that farmers have been doing their own cross breeding for years,” she explained.

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Ganja plants being destroyed by security forces.

Aside from ongoing research into the properties and effects of Cannabis, the UWI was among the first in the world to successfully develop medicines from the plant. Its work, going back to 1972 when ophthalmologist Albert Lockhart and pharmacologist Dr. Manley West began investigating the anecdotes of fishermen who attributed their exceptional night-vision to their consumption of ‘ganja teas’.

From their research, the Department of Pharmacology in 1987 released the Canasol (TM), eye drops to treat glaucoma and followed that success in later years by a number of pioneering marijuana-derived pharmaceuticals: Asmasol for asthma; Cantivert also used to treat glaucoma; Canavert for motion sickness and Cansens for treating viral infections.

“They (the products) were sold on the local market but we really never managed to export it because of the cannabis. But what it showed clearly, was that there are substances in ganja which can provide effective treatment of glaucoma and asthma,” McDonald, a surgeon by training said.

Much of the University’s work in Cannabis is unknown internationally because the laws that prohibited the use of marijuana severely hampered the University’s research programme as well as the marketing of the products.

In Jamaica, the ‘weed’ is also listed as a dangerous drug and until April 2016, possession attracted penalties of imprisonment. The 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs criminalised the possession of ganja, a plant that had been used for generations as traditional medicine by local healers and householders.

When parliament ratified the amendment to the Dangerous Drug Act on April 15, it revived decades old research ambitions at UWI and other local institutions. It also paved the way for a “broad permit” that facilitated the planting of the first legal cannabis plant, thereby establishing UWI’s own ‘ganja’ plot and officially initiating the production and testing of cannabis derived medicines.

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Rastafarians can freely use ‘ganja’ as a sacrament

The amendment that was inked on 6 February – birthdate of the late reggae icon Bob Marley – relaxed rules on the use of ganja on the island. Nowadays, possession of two ounces (56 grams) or less, no longer results in jail time. Rastafarians can freely use ‘ganja’ as a sacrament for the first time since the birth of their movement in the 1930s and householders are allowed to grow up to five plants.

In the months since, several companies have released a number of nutraceuticals and topical pain products derived from cannabis. Not withstanding, McDonald said, UWI is interested in the whole plant.

“Our interest is in unraveling the science behind ganja,” he said.

It’s a philosophy shared by its major partners including Citiva Medical, which Stanley a co-founder said, includes the belief “that the future of cannabinoid medicine lies in strict adherence to unraveling the science”.

As head of the UWI Cannabis Research Group, McDonald is expecting even more successes with new technologies, new investments, new partners and if negotiations go well, he is also looking forward to creating improved versions of Canasol and Asmasol.

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Strains of Charlotte’s Web grow in the facility at UWI as Citiva and the University unravel the secrets to producing consistent dosages of the chemicals found. Photo Z. Neufville

US Federal legislation classification of cannabis the plant as a class 1 drug has forced the Jamaican government to tread lightly, even as it granted permits to UWI and others. Regardless, the University is accelerating its research, construction of green houses, the cultivation of several species of cannabis and the signing of MOUs with agencies and organisations from across the globe.

 

There are several proposals awaiting the regulations and profiling must be done quickly to continue supporting the research and development. To aid the process, more than 600,000 US dollars have been spent to upgrade the equipment in the Toxicology lab.

“We are expecting that many products will be produced and have to be tested and quality checked for them to be marketed. We also expect the USDA will soon come up with regulations on cannabis-derived medicines and we are preparing to meet them,” Lindsay said.

Construction of the UWI Mona Cannabis Research Centre and supporting facilities to expand the institutions research capacity and house its partners is estimated to cost some US 4million dollars.

McDonald is expecting that funding from partners will equip and build the facility as “their contribution to UWI’s 40-year cannabis research legacy, accommodation and the prestige of brand-Jamaica”.

UK Recruiters Exacerbate Jamaica’s Education Brain Drain

by Zadie Neufville

The Following Article was published by Equal Times on March 11, 2016
Jamaican teacher Bertrand came to Britain 15 years ago to seek a better life for himself and his family. He’s amongst hundreds who come every year via recruiting agencies that are raiding the island nation of its teaching staff.

Though Jamaican teachers can earn five times what they make back home, it’s not easy. On an agency salary – typically less than that offered to directly-employed teachers – recruits struggle with the cost of living and sometimes must seek direct placements after three months, Bertrand tells Equal Times, asking not to give his full name.

Teachers at St Andrew Technical with their students. Gleaner Photo

Teachers at St Andrew Technical with their students. Gleaner Photo

“The difference in pay is not that great when you consider the cost of housing, especially in London,” he says, adding that housing for a family is a “pretty steep cut from income.”

And yet in the past year, nearly 500 of Jamaica’s best math and science teachers were recruited to fill some of the 50,000 teaching vacancies in the UK’s education system.

Short on cash and struggling to meet the wage demands of local teachers, Jamaica’s Ministry of Education is grappling with ways to stop the hemorrhage. Recruiters are not only taking the best; they employ the specialists that are the most difficult to replace.

With about a dozen of the island’s best schools losing most of their math and IT departments in 2015 alone, there is concern. As only about one-eighth of the 40,000 students preparing for final exams each year will choose the sciences, it is difficult to find replacements for fully qualified science, technology and maths teachers of the so-called STEM subjects.

“We are not attracting as many science and math teachers as we would have liked in the system. Those who meet matriculation requirements are simply not applying to the teaching profession,” communications director at Jamaica’s Ministry of Education, Byron Buckley, tells Equal Times.

In a report to the Jamaican Parliament on 2 February, then Education Minister Ronald Thwaites pointed to “a deficit in the number of teachers qualified to teach mathematics in the public education system.”

Only about 20 per cent of those deployed are fully qualified, and the situation is similar in the areas of science and information technology, he said. Except for the sciences, literacy and languages, Jamaica has a surplus of teachers.

According to estimates from the education think tank Educate Jamaica, it will take monthly salaries of more than US$2000 after taxes to stem the exodus of specialist teachers.

The Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA), which represents most of the island’s teachers, has also proposed large salary increases and incentives. But International Monetary Fund (IMF) restrictions and the IMF’s proposal for a smaller public sector put the government between a rock and a hard place.

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Teacher Gary Sinclair and his students. Jamaica-gleaner.com Photo

Even with teacher shortages, the Ministry’s strategy of combining incentives, scholarships and the deployment of coaches in failing schools produced a roughly 50 per cent increase in student pass rates for maths and science.

But there are no policies to prevent foreign recruitment, Buckley said. So while the government explores additional incentives to attract, train and retain specialists, the recruiters are free to enlist, encouraged by similar traditional values and education systems.

UK squeezed too
Britain must find some 160,000 additional teachers in the next three years to satisfy its growing needs, a combination of low recruitment numbers, increased retirements and a record number of resignations.

Teacher training applications are also down. In 2014, there were 21,000 fewer teachers in training over the previous year, even as student numbers rose.

At the same time, the recruitment of foreign teachers is putting the squeeze on British teachers. In 2015, the National Union of Teachers’ (NUT), Britain’s largest, charged that the growth of teaching agencies has reduced salaries and denied members’ access to pensions and professional development.

They launched a campaign to push for equal treatment for all teachers and to force disclosure of government’s payments to recruiting companies.

The frequent raids on Jamaica’s education system are a throwback to the 1960s, when many Jamaicans were recruited to fill vacancies in the British transportation system and National Health Service.

Jamaican teachers are targeted not only to fill vacancies, but also to provide role models for Britain’s Afro-Caribbean population. The US and other Caribbean countries have also targeted Jamaica. Most recently China, Dubai and even Botswana have come calling.

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Tarrant High School teacher with class- Observer Photo

Geoff Brown, a former head teacher in the UK, is now a director of Hourglass Education. According to a Guardian newspaper report, he visited Jamaica in June and again in October 2015 to recruit a total of 64 teachers. According to reports, he has been recruiting on the island since the start of year.

With the employment of replacement British teachers at an all-time low, Brown said the best option is to recruit from places like Jamaica. And although there is ongoing recruitment from Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, Brown admitted that he has a preference for Jamaican teachers.

“In my experience, those from Australia and New Zealand want to come over for a year, travel around Europe and take a month off for Christmas to go home. You get a Jamaican, he or she is here for life,” he told the Guardian.

Even with signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) in which UK and others agree to register and submit their request through the Jamaican government’s online system, the recruitment advertising and fairs continue. And since the UK government has given its blessing, the recruiters are expected to be back soon.

“Our positive education outcomes are being undermined by the continued attrition from the system of the already scarce supply of qualified math teachers,” Thwaites told the Jamaican parliament.

Educate Jamaica has proposed “the other option”. In an article on its website the think tank said the government should consider recruiting “from Asian, South American and African countries such as Nigeria and Ghana to fill the vacancies.”

For expediency’s sake, perhaps there’s another teacher brain drain in the making.