A warm welcome to the Ross University School of Medicine, staff, students, faculty and all those associated with the institution. Over the last two weeks, I have had the opportunity to interact with several of the students and I am happy to see the diversity of the persons studying, working and associated with this University.
I had heard the name Ross University for several years from my colleagues in Dominica. It is regrettable that Dominica had to lose in order for Barbados to gain and I hope that Dominica would find a replacement to help their economy in a way that Ross has done over the years. Ross spent 40 years in Dominica so I can understand the tremendous impact such a move would have on that economy.
It is estimated that Ross University has brought 1,500 students and hundreds of staff to Barbados. This means that their presence here will undoubtedly bring a much-needed boost to our economy. Some experts suggest a $100 million gain for our country. As Prime Minister Mia Mottley said last year and reported in the media: “The economic activity that we expect Ross to spin as a result of their presence here is likely to be in the vicinity of over $100 million, one per cent of GDP [gross domestic product] and we believe that this is the kind of direction, the kind of investment, the kind of partnership that we in Barbados want to bring.” She added: “This is the type of investment that is very important to the advancement of the Barbadian economy, and which will also add immeasurably to our diversity.”
As Barbados TODAY highlighted back in August 2018: “The medical school was founded in 1978 as the ‘University of Dominica School of Medicine’ by American entrepreneur Robert Ross, with an inaugural class of just 11 students. The name was formally changed in 1982 at the request of the government to the Ross University School of Medicine, and in 2003 it was acquired by DeVry Education Group, which later changed its name to Adtalem Global Education.”
Off-shore medical schools have, for a few decades, been a feature in the Caribbean especially in the smaller islands. As one Wikipedia description goes: “An offshore medical school… caters ‘primarily to foreign (North American) students, wishing to practise medicine in the US and Canada’ according to the World Bank, compared to local public schools that focus on their home nation. Nonetheless, the local economies often benefit from the academic and economic influence from those schools. Such schools are chiefly located in the Caribbean”. “According to the World Bank, establishing a medical school in the Caribbean is significantly easier than in the [US]. Schools are not required to do research and perform clinical training as LCME accreditation demands. Typically, it only requires a business license to open a medical school in the Caribbean and get listed in the International Medical Education Directory (IMED), which qualifies their students to undergo the ECFMG certification process. As of 2010, there were 61 IMED-listed medical schools in the Caribbean, up from 29 ten years ago, of which 22 began instruction and 5 ceased operation between 2000 and 2010.”
Our younger generation may not recall the resistance in the early 80s to the setting up of the St. Georges Medical School in Barbados but they may know the famous song by the Mighty Gabby, “Cadavers”, which spoke to those concerns.
In early 1984, the St. George’s University School of Medicine moved its campus to Barbados following the evacuation of the campus in Grenada the previous October due to the invasion of the island by US forces. An article in the May 1984 edition of the New York Times gives some insight into the controversy: “The Barbados Government recently approved the establishment of a permanent campus for the American-owned school, viewing it as an economic asset that could pump millions of dollars into the island. Approval was given over the vociferous objections of the country’s doctors, its opposition party and the University of the West Indies. They argue, among other things, that the school has substandard students and curriculum, will undermine medical education in the Caribbean region and lower the quality of health services.
“The controversy has produced wide-ranging allegations against the school, including low standards, improper importation of cadavers and financing by organized crime in New Jersey.
“An acrimonious dispute erupted in January after a shipment of 15 corpses, to be used in St. George’s anatomy class, arrived on the island. There were allegations that the bodies threatened public health and that the method of transporting them – bags instead of coffins were used – flouted Barbadian law.”
The “Cadavers” song seemed to have influenced public opinion with regard to this medical school and perhaps others for some years after. It is strongly argued that Barbados’ loss at keeping the St. Georges School was Grenada’s immense gain.
In recent years, Barbados has witnessed the setting up of several offshore medical schools and once more not without controversy. Just late last year the Barbados Government had to come to the rescue of students and staff at one such institution after it failed to meet the standards and requirements necessary to operate. This time around, or not as yet, there have been no satirical songs galvanizing public opinion on the issue. Having been involved in helping to mitigate the difficult circumstances some students and staff found themselves in with this issue, I can say the Government of Barbados acted effectively, timely and efficiently in offsetting any major fallout over this particular institution.
It has been noted that better and more stringent regulations and oversight must happen with regard to these offshore schools.
Ross University is certainly well established and has a proven track record in Dominica and around the world, so I am sure there are no major causes of concerns having them in our midst. Thus far, they have settled into Barbados almost seamlessly and all indications are that they have been warmly welcomed and received by the Barbadian public. One columnist here at Barbados TODAY has lamented the issue of housing where most of that has gone to Coverely; a reasonable concern, and I hope that as the student intake grows, there will be opportunities for persons to benefit from offering accommodation options. Certainly, as I have witnessed, others are benefitting from their presence, including food establishments, taxis and other service providers that the students will need during their stay here.
One other significant benefit I have observed is the increased number of persons coming to visit Barbados. These 1,500 plus students and hundreds more staff will undoubtedly encourage their extended families, relatives and friends to pay them a visit in Barbados. Barbados is on the bucket list of places to see in the world, so why not visit when someone you know is here? Already I have met several families, parents and siblings who have accompanied their child or relative to settle them in at the University. They have indicated their joy at being here and will tell others to come.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)