It wasn’t so long ago that the Lambirds Academy scandal singed our dignity, when a number of Asian students travelled to beautiful Saint Lucia excitedly in the pursuit of higher education, only to be scammed and abused in multiple ways. Eventually they were reimbursed (reportedly) and allowed to return home but only after a profusion of official promises that turned out to be as fake as the advertisements that had lured them here in the first place. It seemed for more than a year that the system had conspired to cover up its own part in the scam: the students were required to hand over their passports, then were forced to wait for their return. Meanwhile they were not permitted to work. They survived thanks mainly to the generosity of total strangers.
Minister Guy Joseph, MP for Castries South-East, briefly referred to the incident during this week’s House debate of the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP). He said young Saint Lucians had paid substantial amounts to attend allegedly accredited schools, only to discover much later the contrary truth: that the institutions were not internationally recognized.
Of the many new tertiary education affiliations now based in Saint Lucia, six of them are medical, nursing or health education establishments. Spartan Health Sciences University, previously known as the Saint Lucia Health Sciences University, was established locally 1980. After that it seemed like an outbreak of medical affiliations from 2001 when the first offshore medical school, Destiny University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, settled itself in Saint Lucia. This school was followed by the International American University (IAU) in 2003, then the American International Medical University (AIMU) in Beausejour, Gros Islet in 2007, Atlantic University School of Medicine (AUSM) in Rodney Bay in 2010, and the Washington Medical Sciences Institute in 2011.
An offshore school provides education to mostly foreign students who plan on practising in the United States or Canada. In contrast are our public schools such as the nursing programme available at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College which serves to edify local students who plan on working here. Naturally, offshore schooling would have to follow international accreditation guidelines to be accepted in other countries.
Said MP Joseph, accreditation has been an issue with which some of the universities have struggled over the past several years.
At the height of the Lambird’s Academy saga, the CEO of AIMU appeared on Rick Wayne’s TALK in 2015. When questioned about his school’s status, he failed to give a clear response but he bragged about Kenny Anthony’s involvement as a lecturer at his school. It is not clear whether the then House opposition leader was aware of the accreditation status of the school – now involved in litigation.
Students who completed their medical programmes at the Spartan Health Sciences University before January 1, 2009 are not allowed to take the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) tests. This assessment would acknowledge that international medical graduates are qualified to practise medicine or health science in the United Kingdom. The rest of the medical establishments in Saint Lucia are listed under “qualifications which may be acceptable” for the PLAB test, meaning individuals are still not sure of being able to do the test.
The Medical Council of Canada recently posted that students from AIMU, AUSM, IAU, Washington Medical Sciences Institute and College of Medicine and Health Sciences (Destiny University) will not be eligible to apply for licensure or services of the Council if they have graduated after January 1, 2018. The situation is similar with the US.
“Over the years, we have not had the necessary legislation to be able to hold institutions that come to this country accountable for what they are proposing,” said MP Guy Joseph, hence the bill to establish the CAAM-HP which was adopted by the House this week.
But what about the students who attended school before this bill was passed? Some fear they’ve wasted time and money. Others worry about where they will find the funds to pay for tuition at an accredited university. Still others who have graduated wonder what their next move might be. At this week’s House meeting Prime Minister Chastanet acknowledged successive governments had not been stern enough with the locally-based schools but he would now seek a special arrangement with the overseas authorities.