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Transforming the country with higher education

Article - August 24, 2012
Trinidad and Tobago’s top university, COSTAATT is showing significant growth and helping to create a knowledge-based economy

“In our degree programs, we transform lives,” says Emmanuel Gonsalves, President of the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT). “We see students coming into the college, scared at first, but at graduation, we see confident young people, ready to take on the world of work and many ready to be more involved citizens.”

COSTAATT, the largest public institution for higher education on the small Caribbean island-nation of Trinidad and Tobago, was established in 2000 and is already having a huge impact on changing the lives of its citizens, pushing the country toward a knowledge-based economy and significantly contributing to the government’s goal of the country achieving world-class status. 

Already 10,000 students have graduated from its 31 associate degrees, 42 bachelor degrees and six postgraduate programs into the national workforce, contributing significantly to the economy over their working lives. With campuses and learning centers throughout the country, enrollment is rapidly increasing, more than doubling between 2008 and 2011 from 5,014 to 11,600 respectively.

Receiving accreditation in 2008 from the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago, COSTAATT is the first institution that can claim this recognition. It also was ranked as T&T’s top university in terms of quality in the country in November 2011, showing the prospective students and the world that its degree programs hold up to the highest standards. In fact, Mr. Gonsalves is trying to put the institution to the test by applying for further accreditation in Atlanta, Georgia, demonstrating their degree programs are benchmarked against international standards.

“I believe that
you cannot educate a person for a local environment only.”

Emmanuel Gonsalves,
President of COSTAATT

“I believe that you cannot educate a person for a local environment only,” explains Mr. Gonsalves, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago and spent 30 years studying and working in the United States before returning to his homeland. “They have to be ‘glo-cal’, globally prepared, but locally focused – being competitive in the global environment and being able to use those tools and skills and apply them in a local environment. That is what we do here.” 

In order to do this, COSTAATT has already signed Memorandums of Understanding with four colleges in the United States and one in the United Kingdom to begin working on faculty and student exchange programs. There are also considerations to market their programs within the United States, especially on the grounds that it is considerably cheaper in T&T, with a credit costing only TT$300 (US$46), and with easy access through online courses.

Degrees offered range from nursing, information technology, management, journalism, and environmental studies among many others. In 2009, COSTAAT debuted its first bachelor degree in entrepreneurship, empowering its graduates to be creators rather than just job seekers.

Mr. Gonsalves does not consider higher education to be a privilege, but rather a right. COSTAATT has taken significant steps to allow students with less than the requisite qualifications to enroll for classes after going through a developmental program called COMPASS to prepare them for the rigors of a college education.

“We are opening the doors of opportunity for people. There are approximately 2,000 of our almost 12,000 students who would not be here without the COMPASS Program,” explains Mr. Gonsalves, noting that this supports the national thrust to achieve a 60% participation rate in higher education and is consistent with the school’s motto: ‘Transforming lives, communities and the nation, one student at a time’.