University of The Bahamas eyes strategic priorities in new norm

The 2019-2020 academic year brought daunting challenges for University of The Bahamas (UB), but still senior administrators have touted some successes and set key priorities for the 2020-2021 academic year.

The fall 2020 semester has been marked by an increase in full-time enrolment and family island enrollment, an expansion of land assets, while new graduate programs will be rolled out and the university community in Grand Bahama remains focused on rebuilding, senior administrators reported during the Media PASS (Plan for Achieving Strategic Success) virtual event held recently.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Dr. K. Jonathan Rodgers noted that while UB has experienced a very tough period, it has shown that it is tough enough to handle any other challenges that may lie ahead. Dr. Rodgers said The Bahamas – particularly the northern islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco – had barely started to pick up the pieces from Hurricane Dorian when the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent economic recession struck.

Like many other organizations, exploring and capitalizing on potential revenue generating measures is among the priorities.

“We are contemplating a possible convocation center to be built on the Clarence Bain Building property,” said Dr. Rodgers. “We are also in talks with the government to create an economic zone around the university campus that will provide an income stream needed to support the future growth of the university.”

The Clarence A. Bain Building has been razed and the government recently gifted the land, on University Drive and Moss Road, to UB.

Among the senior administrators who reported on their respective portfolios were UB President Dr. Rodney D. Smith; Vice President of Administrative Services Dr. Marcella Elliott-Ferguson; Vice President of University of The Bahamas-North Dr. Ian G. Strachan; Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Maria Oriakhi; and Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Alumni Affairs Mr. Dino Hernandez. Each enumerated the progress made over the 2019-2020 academic year and identified their strategic imperatives for the 2020-2021 year.

President Smith attributed the achievement of recent milestones to a culture of collaboration and shared governance. He celebrated the contributions of faculty, staff, students and administrators as well as donors and other supporters of the university.

“During this pandemic, both academic freedom and shared governance have been essential in UB’s ability to pivot and remain a functioning tertiary level institution. Essential to all of our success is the faculty and staff at UB who took on so many other duties and responsibilities,” said President Smith. “I thank them for being innovative in the use of technology and working so enthusiastically with students, making sure that the high quality education for which UB is renowned, is delivered timely and accurately.”

A five-year strategic plan is guiding UB’s trajectory and among the goals are increasing student enrollment and graduation. Factors like the lingering effect of Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted student enrollment.

Full-time enrollment has increased by 11.5 percent to 3,790 students, enrollment of family island students has increased and the percentage of students pursuing undergraduate degree programs rose by 2.8 percent for fall 2020, according to Vice President of Administrative Services Dr. Marcella Elliott-Ferguson. UB’s current enrollment stands at 4,575 for New Providence and Grand Bahama.

“Normally we would report separately on the UB-North campus and the main campus here in New Providence,” said Dr. Elliott-Ferguson. “This time around though, that did not appear to be an adequate measure, because what we found is that due to the virtual environment there were students who were registering both for courses at UB-North and courses in New Providence, no matter where they were.”

Vice President of UB-North Dr. Ian Strachan also touted an increase in enrollment for fall 2020 as a result of students being able to register and take classes online offered at either campus.

“This year we have a higher enrollment than we have had in a very long time, 686 students enrolled in UB-North classes and the students are not all resident in Grand Bahama. Even in the midst of this crisis our ability to respond creatively and quickly to migrate our classes online has made it possible for us to grow,” said Dr. Strachan.

Eight months into kicking its remote education into high gear, some 90 percent of UB’s courses are being delivered as virtual content. A few practicum classes are being held on campus with strict health protocols, according to Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Maria Oriakhi. By the end of the current academic year, the institution expects to roll out new graduate degree programs, including the very first doctoral degree.

“Five graduate programs were approved by the Academic Senate: MBA Accounting, MBA Events Management, MBA Hospitality Management, Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma in Public Administration, expected to begin spring 2021. We also anticipate offering the master and doctorate by research before the end of this academic year,” noted Dr. Oriakhi.

In line with the strategic goal of increasing and diversifying revenue and funding sources, Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Alumni Affairs Dino Hernandez revealed the highlights of private giving to UB from both national and international donors. He noted that there was a 148 percent increase in cumulative gift activity for 2019-2020 over 2018-2019. Additionally, between September 4th, 2019 and September 30th, 2020 UB’s Hurricane Dorian Relief and Recovery Fund secured $461,461.44 in cash, pledges and in-kind donations for the rebuilding of UB-North. UB also has been fundraising for its COVID-19 Relief Fund.

“We never stop accepting gifts. There is still a great level of need. In this global pandemic we realized that our students are in desperate need of technology, not just limited to access to a laptop, or a desktop but also access to the Internet. So I encourage folks to go to our COVID-19 Relief Fund and give,” he said.

Held under the theme “Accessing, Adapting and Advancing Higher Education in a New Norm”, the Media PASS event is a platform to share UB’s achievements and milestones for the 2019-2020 academic year and strategic priorities and projections for the current year.

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