Career & Education

'I regret going to university'

Caribbean students prefer hands-on approach of colleges

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Career & Education writer
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 19, 2018

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The word 'university' traditionally holds more prestige than 'college' among many Caribbean parents. But as some Caribbean students currently studying in Canada recently told the Jamaica Observer, there is an increasing shift towards the latter category given their emphasis on practical approaches to learning and the comparative speed with which their graduates are hired.

Megan Virgill, who holds a bachelor's degree in pschyology from a Canadian university and who is now a second-year educational and support student at Sheridan College's Oakville campus, is one of them.

Virgill told Career & Education that when she graduated from university in Nova Scotia in 2009, she was unable to secure a job in her field so she went home. She explained that when she returned to the Bahamas, she was still unable to start her career.

When she did land a job, Virgill said she was unable to sustain herself, and had to rely on her mother for financial assistance.

“I definitely regret going to university,” Virgill said.

Education Trade Commissioner at the Canadian High Commission in Kingston Yasmin Chong interjected and asked if 'regret' was too harsh a word to describe her experience. Virgill said no.

“I say it to my mother all the time. I didn't enjoy it. It wasn't my passion,” Virgill replied.

The young woman said it is uncommon in her native island for students to attend colleges, and added that it was her mother, a magistrate, who made the decision about her going to university.

Virgill's comments came during the EduCanada Guidance Counsellors and Media Tour in Ontario earlier this month. Designed to give guidance counsellors a first-hand feel of some of Canada's institutions of higher learning to better prepare them to advise students wishing to study abroad, the annual tour is hosted by the High Commission of Canada in Kingston, Jamaica under the auspices of Global Affairs Canada and several Canadian education partners. This year it took four counsellors from high schools in Jamaica and one each from the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands to visit eight universities and colleges — Sheridan College, Humber College, York University, Seneca College, Loyalist College, University of Guelph, Niagara College, and Brock University.

The young woman explained that her decision to go back to school followed a conversation with Sheridan's senior international coordinator of marketing and agent relations Anaita McIntyre at a Canadian career fair in the island.

“I feel as though I could have just come up to college here at Sheridan, and you know I would have already been working and making a name for myself and been established, instead of spending another two years, more money and more time, and more time of my life trying to get established when I could have already done it.

“So I certainly have regrets. If it were up to me and I could re-do it, I wouldn't go to university at all,” Virgill said, adding that a paradigm shift is needed.

The 27-year-old, who recently secured a CDN$1000 scholarship for academics and volunteerism, said she was not equipped with the necessary skills to generate income prior to attending college. Now, she says, she is making enough money to sustain herself and live comfortably before finishing college.

Students in Canada can work for up to 20 hours per week off campus, but unlimted hours on campus.

Jamaican students Kathryn Lawrence andAshleigh Grey, who are studying interior design and human resource, respectively at the same college made similar pleas.

Although they had the parental backing, they too, belive parents and stakeholders should place the same amount of emphasis on colleges.

Lawrence, a fourth-year student who wants to return home and impart her knowledge in what ever way she can, said there is a misconception about colleges in Jamaica as well.

The St Andrew High school alumna explained that people are of the view that colleges are for students who were unable to meet university criteria, but like her colleagues, the former deputy head girl maintained that colleges are more practical.

“While we do theory, they do focus heavily on what you really need to do, which is practising your work so you can actually go out there and do things. I remember going for interviews and they would look at my work and say, 'Wow!' Sheridan has such a master of the techical, while some other schools are very theoretical; having you read, read, read for your degree,” she explained.

“I would definitely send my childen in the future to college if they chose to go,” she added.

Grey, meanwhile, a Herbert Morrison past student who finished high school with a steller performance said she had received early acceptance for a university in Kingston, but instead decided along with her parents that Sheridan College offers the necessary programmes that will prepare her for the work force.

The second-year student who was 18 years old when she was accepted into college said the notion has to change.

In a presentation at Humber College the following day, Munro College guidance cousellor Angella Cogle agreed, but admitted that it was a hard sell, as it is often difficult to encourage parents to enroll their children in colleges rather than universities.

She explained that parents are of the view that their children would be at a disadvantage if they return home with a lower level degree or a diploma, given the fact that employees are paid based on their qualification.

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