Trinidad and Tobago Instiute of Technology:
By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
A Racket Exposed
September 30, 2003
If you go down to Brechin Castle, just behind the Brechin Castle Sugar Factory on Bagasse Road, you will find a very austere Blue and Cream building, nestled softly within the gentle plains of Caroni and surrounded by verdant sugar cane plants. This building is known as the Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Technology. If you look a little closer, you will see several young men and women bustling feverishly about the campus preparing, it seems, for a new semester. Built to function along the lines of a Corporate University, this Institute boast of having the state of arts equipment for its students, argues that it is driven by what it calls strong hands-on skills and provides its students with a university -related curricular. In their Calendar of 2002-2003, the institute says it was established to produce "a cadre of Engineering Technologists to meet the needs of the middle and upper levels of industry." Unfortunately, when this Institute was envisaged, little thought was given to the inclusion of Africans in the society. So intent was the UNC to take care of its own, little thought was given to including Africans in this Institute. It was the prize possession of the UNC; the golden jewel in its educational crown to maximize East Indian advantage at the expense of all else in the society.
As its Calendar tells it, TTIT is meant
TTIT was built at a cost of close to one hundred million dollars. Twenty-eight million dollars was provided by the T&T Government; fifteen million dollars by the energy sector and a loan of fifty-seven million dollars from the CDB. Today, it costs about twenty million dollars to run this institute about fifty per cent of which comes from student tuition. Corporate gifts make up the next fifty percent.
1. to equip nationals of Trinidad and Tobago with competences in technology, engineering and the sciences;
2. to serve the needs of business, industry and government;
3. and to develop students awareness of their social and moral responsibilities and the impact of technology on society.
TTIT consists of approximately eleven hundred students; seventeen full time faculty members and about thirty-five part time members. Of the seventeen full time members, only one African has a permanent spot on the faculty. Fourteen members of the faculty are Indians. There is not one African who is a senior instructor on the faculty. All of the senior instructors, except one, do not have a MA degree as required by the rules of the institution. Of the part time faculty there are no more than five African members, approximately thirty members of the part time faculty are Indians.
The student body follows a similar pattern. Approximately seventy-five per cent of the student body are Indians; about twenty-five per cent are Africans. Perhaps about seventy-five per cent of the students are male, twenty five percent are female. There are also four students from St. Kitts; two from Barbados; and one from Venezuela. There are about one hundred and twenty persons on staff of which approximately seventy per cent are Indians.
The qualifications to get into TTIT are simple. The institute calls for 5 O level passes which should include passes in English, Mathematics and Physics. Eight hundred students applied to be accepted in a class of four hundred and eighty students. To his credit, Philip Robinson, an African and manager of student affairs who arrived at the institute a few months ago, believes that the process by which students are selected is fair. Other members of the Institute who have been there for a much longer period do not have as much faith in the system as Mr. Robinson and certainly believes otherwise. They point out that many of the Indians students who are accepted in the Institute should not be there in the first place, a position that was supported implicitly by two resident faculty members of the University of Houston, Drs. Sharon and Bill Pinebrook. Invariably, the Africans students perform better than the Indian students and their retention rates are higher. For example, the present class in Industrial Instrumentation Technology began with fifteen students: thirteen Indians and two Africans. It dwindled down to nine students. The six students who failed to keep up with the work were Indians. The entrance grades of the two African students in the Industry Instrumentation Technology class were as follows: 6 CXC and two As; 5 CXC and two As. Most of the African students at TTIT have As in the Sciences. The same rate of attrition was true of the graduation class. In terms of percentages, more Indians dropped out of the graduating class (that is, failed to keep up with the work) than did the African students. A faculty member observed that overall the African students performed better than the Indian students. Yet, there were failures. One African graduate from TTIT was so badly trained that he scored zero on a digital electronics test administered by Carib Brewery.
In spite of Mr. Robinson's assurances, the frightening part of TTIT's story is that the University of Houston, which ran the BSc in Applied Technology, noted that some of the students were not qualified for the course. They also suggested that rules regarding the requirement that faculty must have a Master's degree to teach was not followed. It also noted that most of the senior instructors do not have the requisite MA with which to teach. Such recommendations, did not meet with the favor of the current administration. Therefore, the contract with the University of Houston was terminated (it would end in 2005) and the University of the West Indies will fill the breach. UWI faculty will teach the course.
Another sad feature of the school is the extreme dishonesty of many of the students and what can be called the inferior education that is offered by some of the faculty members. Since faculty members can only teach twenty-two hours per week, they are paid one hundred and fifty dollars per hour for any teaching they do after that. As a result, some of the faculty makes mas' with this situation. It is almost as though teaching at TTIT has become a function of mass production. In the last semester seven of the seventeen full time instructors taught more than twenty-five hours per week. One faculty member taught as many as thirty-eight hours per week, which meant that he or she made a salary of close to twenty-three thousand dollars per month. The question arises: how in heaven's name can an instructor teach thirty-eight hours a week and still find the time to correct his examinations, do his continuous assessments and yet attend to other faculty matters? At my school, for example, an instructor teaches about five hours a week, but then some of our Indian instructors are super humans since their parental training and cultural backgrounds make them super heroes.
As a result of this over teaching, it is alleged that some instructors give students marks without even administering examinations. The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) supported this conclusion. In a report two years ago, SAIT says that instructors were guilty of making up marks and they were teaching too many hours. In some instances, the instructors did not even have the required laboratory equipment to teach their courses. This makes one wonder how these instructors taught their classes. Some of the equipment at the Institute is deficient. It was bought from an obscure Italian company called De Lorenzo. At TTIT there is no equipment made by companies such as Hewlett Packard, Tektronix or Fluke. Yet, there are conflicting responses on this score. One student informed me that the Fibre Optics Lab, the DCS, the PBX and the Mechanical Engineering Labs are in excellent condition.
On June 27, 2003, a short audit report by SAIT Audit Team was particularly harsh on the Institute. Its general findings were as follows:
1. There is still general concern over the level of the exams and assignments. As the students progress through their program, higher expectations of critical thought and self-direction are expected. Exams and assignments should reflect that within the scope of the course objectives. While significant improvements have been made in many courses, further emphasis is required.
As one can well image, it doesn't take much time to find out what is going on at TTIT. Yet, I hope that these findings put to rest many of the false notions about the superiority of one race in certain fields and the non-performance of another race in other fields. I hope we recognize that the racial disparities in the faculty, the student body and the staff are not acceptable in a multi-racial society. Although many of the faculty and students do not always meet the scholastic and academic requirements of the institution, no one seems to have even raised an eyebrow about these abuses. I am tempted strongly to believe that the University of Houston's contract was terminated because it pointed out the shortcomings of TTIT and thereby put an end to some of these inconsistent practices. Instead, UWI was given the contract to train the students in the BS in Applied Technology so that it can support some the low standards that are applied in some of these areas. Can this further inbreeding be any good for the institute?
2. The emphasis on punctual commencement of classes seemed quite inconsistent. SAIT is of the view that students are in training for employment where punctual and habitual attendance is expected. We therefore reflect this on our class start times.
3. In courses taught by part time (industry) Instructors, it was noted that while professional qualifications were strong, instructional techniques were limited. A more in-depth Instructional Skills Workshop is required to better equip Instructors.
4. The report also commented about the plagiarism it found at the institute and noted "the communications courses need to address plagiarism and the citation of sources more thoroughly."
There is one more observation that needs to be developed. The newly formed Trinidad and Tobago University, I have been told, is looking favorably upon TTIT as the nucleus upon which to form our new University. I would suggest that we look at TTIT more carefully before we leap, lest many of the policies, racial and otherwise, their inefficiencies, inadequate instructors and bad instructional practices be replicated in the T&T University. More importantly, the T&T University ought to inform the public how it intends to proceed with its development. As far as I am concerned there has not been much discussion about this idea. If African people are wise they would scrutinize every move that is made by this new university. If we don't look out, we will be sold down the river again.
I hope that more investigative work is done on TTIT and, at some point, UWI.
I do not know if one ought to attach much significance to the fact Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Technology (TTIT) now stands upon the ruins of an old Bagasse Factory in Brechin Castle. I don't know if it says anything about the quality of learning that goes on in that Institute except to remind our listeners that bagasse is the final product that emerges when all of the sucrose contents have been wrung out of the sugar cane plant. That is, TTIT is not the real thing. Perhaps this is one reason why the students and faculty simply call TTIT, "the factory," an educational arrangement where the making of money seems to be the prime objective of the institute. In other words, they have a product and a general manager (not a principal). There is little quality control. It does not matter whether the product is good or bad. The financial returns are all that matters. This might not be the most generous description of TTIT. However, it is a pretty good description of the place. When I aired Part 1, "Racial Practices at TTIT," on Tuesday, August 19, Mr. Harris Khan, the General Manager of TTIT, a position analogous to that of the Principal of the Institute, called to say that he was devastated by my report and would respond accordingly. I promised to grant him equal time if he so desired. Since then, I have heard nothing from him. Today, I conclude my report. I reveal other observations and offer a series of recommendations that I hope will be helpful to the institute. I still hope that Mr. Khan will intervene and let us benefit from his point of view.
My first report centered on the racial imbalance of the students, faculty and staff and the substandard nature of teaching at the Institute. I alluded to the lack of preparedness of some students, over teaching on the part of faculty, the non-correction of exams although students were given grades and my fear that TTIT was being looked at as a prototype for the University of Trinidad and Tobago. I also quoted from the "Draft Interim Short Report on the Audit 2003" that was prepared by the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) that awards some of TTIT's degrees. This morning, I elaborate on my findings. They do not really paint TTIT in the best possible light.
Apart from SAIT's concerns over the level of exams administered, the limited aspects of some of the instructional techniques and the plagiarism found at the institute, SAIT also found other weaknesses. Of the fifteen programmes examined by SAIT,
a) Five were approved. Yet, there are indicators that all is not well in some of these courses. In "Mechanical Engineering," the auditors wrote: "The student Design Project was headed for disaster until the Instructor was replaced." In another course, "Chemical Engineering," the auditor advises: "Greater attention needs to be given to the preparation of and evaluating reports by students of their work experience." These recommendations go back to the over teaching of the instructors.
Just to be sure that TTIT got the message, the auditors made it clear: "All programmes which will have graduates by August  should be approved. While some programs have conditions applied, these have been discussed and it is our understanding that TTIT is taking steps to remedy them in a timely fashion." I was unable to determine how TTIT responded to this warning.
b) One programme was approved for one year only. The Audit states: "While differences were significant, none are so great as to deny student certification." In other words, it is possible that students could have been denied certification because of short comings in the class;
c) Four programmes were conditionally approved. In one instance, SAIT required "notice of completion and review of course materials" before approval be given. In another instance, it was asked that students "be given a workshop session…to develop the student's soldering/desoldering skills. SAIT will require notice of completion and review of course materials." Certainly, the lack of equipment, something that still persists, makes it very difficult for the instructors to do their work. In one course, the B. Tech in Petroleum Engineering, SAIT reports: "At the time of the on-site audit, the course materials presented by TTIT for ten out of twenty courses was insufficient for an adequate review by SAIT Instructors."
d) One programme, "Instrumentation Technology," was not approved. The auditors write: "Due to a delay in the delivery schedule, the fourth and fifth semesters have not yet been delivered. Progress today is positive but the final conclusion is pending a successful review of course materials from the final two semesters." In other words, a programme is offered but the final two semesters of the course are not taught.
e) In four programs, the auditors made the following note: "There are no deficiencies noted that would prevent students from graduating." I do not know if this was a tentative approval or not.
General Manager, Harris Khan claims that my initial findings came as a shock to him. He even claimed that he contracted a degree of speechlessness when he heard my first report. Unfortunately, such sentiments contradict Mr. Harris's own testimony. On Friday, June 27, 2003, after he received the Draft Report from SAIT, he responded to Roy Barker, head of the Report Team, as follows:
Many thanks for your quick response with the preliminary report. It has, however, left us in a bit of a shock as the overall tone and comments would suggest that we have not done well at all. Any third party reading this would come to the conclusion that we have in fact failed this audit. This is contrary to the feedback we had from the teams at the end of each audit...
These are the words of Harris Khan who, incidentally was promoted from being the Manager (that is, Principal of TTIT) to the General Manager. One wishes to ask: "On what basis was Mr. Khan promoted?"
The overall tone of the direct feedback was perhaps directly opposite to that of the preliminary report. As a result, we are not sure where we stand now.
But should Mr. Khan have been really shocked by the SAIT report? The evidence suggests that the outside auditors warned TTIT of their errant behavior previously. In March 2002, SAIT sent a comprehensive Report on their Visit to the Institute. In their "Conclusions and Recommendations," the auditors complimented TTIT for the progress it had made. It argued: "Many of the courses are being delivered in a manner that parallels their presentation at SAIT." Whether the Pre-Audit of 2003 represented a setback on their 2001 progress it is hard to say. Yet, it is doubtful whether many of the recommendations made a year ago were followed. What are the problems of TTIT?
1. In the first place, Harris Khan leads TTIT. Up until three years ago, his sole qualification was a TECHNICIAN'S diploma from San Fernando Technical Institute. Three years ago, he received an Executive MBA from UWI's Institute of Business rather than a full-fledged MBA degree. It is not necessary to have an undergraduate degree to enter that programme. One is exempted from many of the courses one has to take normally for an MBA because of one's experience, and the Executive MBA is usually completed in a year. In other words, Khan possesses no academic qualifications and thus should not head an institution that gives out academic degrees. It is very difficult at best for a technician to supervise faculty, one of whom has a PhD, and students who receive undergraduate degrees and diplomas. SAIT's auditors recognized this problem. In their report, they made the following recommendation: "It became apparent in the discussions with the programme coordinators and TTIT/NESC management that the extent and diversity of the programmes being presented at TTIT have reached a point where the appointment of a Dean of Academic Programmes would improve the management of academic resources and allow the Manager of TTIT to concentrate on non-academic issues involved in the operations of the institute. It is recommended that TTIT/NESC management explore the possibility of appointing such a Dean at TTIT." This was a gentle way of saying that because of his lack of academic training, Mr. Khan was not fit to overseer the academic programmes at TTIT. Instead, he was promoted to the post of General Manager. It is a recommendation to which the Board and Management of NESC/TTIT should pay close attention.
All is not wrong at TTIT. It offers a part-time engineering degree to many students who cannot go to UWI. It offers students good practical knowledge in many fields and many students leave the institute better off that when they came in. Students who enter the institute with As and some practical experience are more likely to benefit from TTIT than those who come to the Institute with CXC examinations. The fields of study such as Mechanical Engineering and TCI possess some good equipment even though Electrical engineering has some very bad equipment. The school needs to cut down on the load of the instructors and grant them an annual vacation so that they can retool themselves. There is no way an instructor can teach thirty hours a week, correct approximately three exams for each course; do a mid term and final exam and his/her continuous assessment. Given the present working of the system there is no way an instructor at TTIT can keep up with the evolving practices in his or her field?
2. Hamood Mohammed, a Senior Instructor at TTIT, is listed as having a BSc degree in Telecommunications. I call upon the Board of Management to tell us where he received his degree and when.
3. Tagore Ramlal is perhaps the only instructor who does not have a degree. He has a Diploma in Electrical Engineering. Although he is reputed to be one of the better lecturers at the Institute, in some semesters, he is reputed to teach as many as thirty-five hours a week. Other instructors have taught as many as 38 hours a week. There are two problems with this: A student cannot get the best from his classes if a teacher teaches thirty-five hours a week. SAIT flagged this condition when it noted: "The instructors in the programmes appear to be severely overloaded in terms of weekly contact hours with the students, three semesters per calendar year, and an expectation of developing new courses…. It is important for the quality of the instruction and the programmes as a whole that a more sustainable loading structure be targeted as soon as possible." (p. 74). In one semester, seven instructors taught more than twenty-five hours (that is, had more than twenty-five contact hours) per week.
4. Under the circumstances, at TTIT teaching is not about erudition and imparting knowledge. It reduces itself to making as much money as possible, which is one reason why TTIT is called the Factory. For example, an instructor, with a base salary of $12,000 a month, who teaches thirty hours a week, can make as much as $17,760 per month. That is, he is paid approximately $150 per hour after his regular teaching load of twenty-two hours a week. Further, he is given a bonus of twenty per cent of his overtime wages if he turns in his grades within five days after the exam is given. An instructor who works thirty-eight hours a week can make as much as $22,920 per months. It is important to note that remuneration has nothing to do with qualifications. So that an instructor with a Diploma can make as much money per month as someone who possesses a MSc. This is good business compared with the wages of approximately $6,000 per months that an instructor at John Donald Technical Institute receives.
5. But this overloading has tremendous implications for the quality of education that a student receives at TTIT. Can a faculty member be expected reasonably to teach thirty hours a week and be a good teacher? Given this overload, some instructors returned students' grade months after the exam is written, long after students have started other classes. It is even complicated by their honesty. In one course, the auditors noted that the grades given by the instructor "appear contrived" (p. 41).
6. The Institute offers too many courses and in too short a time. While this brings in more money to the Factory (the more programmes offered the more money the Factory receives) and the instructors (some instructors offer short courses for industry in spite of their gigantic loads of over thirty contact hours), it overloads the students and cheats them of a proper education. The SAIT report was also prescience in this regard. It said: "Along with the high failure rate in the courses, students appear to be unable to cope with the work load of at least thirty hours of class time per week. Some instructors have stopped giving assignments because the students were not doing them…..The first cohort of students have had to drop the SMTL 300 course from the third semester schedule as they did so poorly on their mid-term exam. They will have to take the course while they are doing their second semester work."
7. There is another factor that impedes the ability of the faculty to deliver a quality product. Faculty at TTIT has no vacation time. To compensate for this shortcoming, TTIT offers something called "Accelerated Delivery." It encourages instructors to teach a 16-week course in 12 weeks. In this way, instructors are able to get a month's vacation. But could you imagine the harm that this procedure does to the student? For example, this semester, one instructor taught a 16 weeks course in 12 weeks because he wanted to go on leave. That is, he offered an "Accelerated Delivery" Course. The failure rate was fifty per cent. The students protested. The results: all of the students were given a pass on this examination. This, I suspect, is one the "Factory Effect" of education.
8. And what about the quality of learning that goes on at TTIT? In some instances, an instructor is the programme. The Audit reveals that one instructor was scheduled to teach "70 % of the programme. By accident he is covering eighty-five per cent of the class load. As such he is a critical point of failure" (p. 40). In engineering terms, "a critical point of failure" means that if you lose this person the system crashes. Another aspect of the recommendation spoke about the content of the exams. It noted: "Some examinations appear to be based on testing lower levels of learning such as memorization, rather than deductive reasoning or synthesis required for practical problem solving. It is recommended that the type of examination used at TTIT be weighted towards the latter."
9. It gets worse. Grades are given at random, wrong answers are marked as correct and irrelevant questions are asked. The SAIT Pre-Audit Reports observed: "Four scripts were provided [to the reviewer for Advanced Drilling Technology]: the marks were 90%, 91%, 100% and 100%, and these were very high. The bonus mark questions are unusual, to say the least." One such question was: "Who is the PCI head at NESC-TTIT?" As the reviewer noted: Such a question "is hardly justified in helping students pass the DRLG453 course." Even wrong answers are marked as being correct. The reviewer noted: "An answer on the advantages of unbalanced drilling: 'Effective in drilling for and producing hydrocarbons being marked as correct is not acceptable. Similarly, the answer to the advantages of completing a well underbalanced… was also marked as correct, and it is clearly irrelevant to a question of completions. The instructor needs to be coached in the care and standards required in marking examination papers" (p. 7). The reviewer was clearly being charitable. In any serous institution this instructor would have been fired forthwith.
10. Exams need to be more rigorous and more counseling ought to be done at TTIT. The SAITT Pre-Audit Report notes: "In general, the overall rigor of the evaluations (lab reports, quizzes and exams) needs to increase. In some cases, questions on evaluations were reprinted from questions provided in purchased SAIT course modules (pre-test and post-test questions.)." It also noted: "Many instructors had excessive instructional commitments that prevent them from being available for course counseling with students" (p. 42).
11. It is also reported that African students are the last to be placed in Co-Op training. For example, students with the best mid-term grades are placed in jobs first. This is not true for the African students. They are usually the last to be placed, no matter how well they do.
12. Why do so few Africans know about TTIT? Is it being kept as a place for the Indians alone? The Pre-Audit Report picked this up when it noted that several "students made the comment that the programmes TTIT are not well-known outside the institute, and the role of the engineering technologist is not widely appreciated in the community" (p. 76). What, indeed, does the larger community of T&T know about TTIT, an institution that has been built at a cost of $100 million dollars?
In the end, the central question is this: Is TTIT defrauding the students who attend its institute and why have SAITT and the government allowed this to continue? Is it simply a case that TTIT is content to accept the one million dollar fee that it is given each year without being more rigorous than it is and can the students who graduate from TITT compete at a similar institution in Canada? Has the Committee on the Regulation of Degrees ever visited this Institute and what is their finding? Has any official from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education ever visited this institute? If so, what is their finding? Much more should be done to make TTIT known to the society.
Finally, Mr. Khan should be asked to resign as General Manager and everything should be done to regulate this Factory that was created simply to set aside a safe haven for a certain section of the population. It is about time the racket was unveiled and TTIT be converted to a true institute of Technology of T&T.
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