The University of Belize is in the midst of an Institutional Curriculum Review. Now that may sound like just more bureaucratese for an institution that has been cultured into that. But, apparently, not so this time. The University bosses say they want to shake things up in a meaningful way – because Belize’s Development depends on it.

Today the University President and Assistant Provost held a press conference in Belize City to outline the plan. The event was slightly weird for a few reasons. First, because in two years in Belize, President Cary Fraser has never held a press conference. Secondly, because UB does everything in Belmopan, the seat of its flagship campus; And third because the University Chairman wasn’t there and neither was the provost. In fact, very few faculty or staff were there.

But 7news did attend the unusual event, and found out about a sober, progressive and thorough review of the state of affairs at the national university:..

Dr.Cynthia Thompson - Assistant Provost
"We want to embark on a system where through the entire process, we are leading toward accreditation. At this moment the University is not accredited to any formal body and we want to build and lead the University towards that process so that in the long run we will be able to come out with an institution where its programs will be recognized and accredited - not only regionally but internationally."

Dr. Cary Fraser - President, UB
"No modern society can survive without the University."

Dr.Cynthia Thompson
"If we do not build our national university, the National University will not be able to build Belize. So we are looking to our Belizean partners for support in this major endeavour."

Dr. Cary Fraser
"One of the striking things about Belize is in fact that there is not a well developed system of scientific investigation or science education. That is something that will need to be addressed in this society over the next several years if the society is to be moved forward. It's important to understand that the future survival of the society, in Geographical and Environmental terms, they'll require people to think about how science can be applied to both the use of the land and the use of the reef. I think this is an important area that the University can contribute to. So the Institutional Curriculum Review is in many ways about retooling the University to think about how national development needs to be addressed. There's an entire process by which the university can help to transform the future of this society and I think people need to start thinking about it and how the University can be very helpful in creating that future."

Jules Vasquez
"Is this the sort of review that a) should have been done at the point of amalgamation and b) should have been done shortly thereafter meaning that doing it now is quite late?"

Dr.Cynthia Thompson
"As you know hindsight is usually 20/20, I would agree with you that this is something that should have happened in the early days of the University. We should have stopped and said we are amalgamating 5 institutions and with different cultures but I think enough attention was not given to making the shifts, not only in putting people together- but the shifts in changing the culture of thinking. So, in hindsight I would say that our approach could have been better, our approach could have been one where we took time to make the changes but I think we were forging ahead to make a change and we weren't taking small steps to come to that big thing that we wanted there. I would agree with you that yes, we could have amalgamated using a different format."

Jules Vasquez
"Will there be excisions in this review if the review suggests that there are sudden superfluous elements or non-functional elements?

Dr.Cynthia Thompson
"I think the president might have to talk about excise but you know something, the question you have just asked is a question that was asked when we were amalgamating and the politically correct response that was given was 'nobody will lose their jobs' that was what was said and here we are. In my view, I'm not saying we're going to fire anyone - I would not say that, I don't have the capacity to say that, or the authority to say that - but I believe that we will have to be true to ourselves and we will know when we are feeding into an institution."

And so while there are days of reckoning ahead for the university, one of the issues it must confront is the English language; that both teachers and students speak and use it poorly. Today, the assistant provost and the President discussed this issue. The university is doing a quick impact assessment of 800 students and recently did the same for teachers.

They explained:…

Jules Vasquez
"Is there really any truth and accountability session that somebody finally starts to tell th truth that a lot of people who graduate can't speak English and can't function in a real work place?"

Dr. Cary Fraser
"I recognize the use of Creole wildly within the society and even in the University but we have to start making the distinguished between Creole as a language of communication and English as a language of learning. If you don't acquire an advance knowledge of English, your ability to understand science will be compromised. That is something that I have been very clear about - that the University has to move to an English and a bi-lingual focus. Learning the languages that allow people the advance learning, is important for the future development of this society and the critical issue is to fix schools at the Primary and secondary level that can have teachers who teach in English. The University will be central to that process - we have to think now, recognizing the demographic and social problem that it presents - we now have to think about how to strengthen the use of English within the University."

Dr.Cynthia Thompson
"The faculty of Education has identified language as one of the areas that across the University we are finding weaknesses."

That rapid impact assessment of the language skills of 800 students is underway.

Channel 7