FLASHBACK, 2018: Jafi Barrow, left, serves pastries to THTI chairman Alison Williams and THA Division Education, Innovation and Energy administrator Jacqueline Job, right, as THTI CEO Dr Stephen Sheppard, back, looks on.

The Tobago House of Assembly is currently undertaking a process to convert the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Institute (THTI) at Mt St George into the University of Tobago.

THTI CEO Dr Steven Sheppard announced the plan during a weekly virtual THA panel discussion titled “Tobago Matters” which looked at education on the island.

Sheppard said the list of subject areas to be taught at the proposed university has already been developed and approved by the board of directors, and these areas, both traditional and unconventional, are based on Tobago’s developmental needs. He gave some insight into the subjects to be offered at the university.

“Tropical Agriculture and Food Technology, especially during this COVID and post-COVID era, where food security is such an important issue. We see every week, complaints about food prices going up, we have to depend on other countries too much, we have to focus more on what we produce here,” Sheppard said.

He said there will also be an emphasis on food processing which will target micro-entrepreneurs on the island, adding they can be formally exposed to methods of food preservation and food processing, as well as the chemistry behind food processing.

The University of Tobago will also offer courses that cover traditional and unconventional tourism areas.

“Hospitality and strategic tourism will cover culinary arts, food and beverage operation and check this landscape design, landscape maintenance, inventory management, forecasting, maid interaction, customer service management, sound engineering, sound management, small vessel construction and maintenance, coastal navigation—all that is part of tourism,” he said.

According to Sheppard, areas such as earth and environmental science, allied health sciences, such as specialised therapy areas and diagnostic imaging, are also being proposed as courses. However, there will be a major emphasis on art and culture.

“There’s the Tobago Performing Arts Company but arts and culture is not formally taught and there is no research centre for arts and culture, so we will have one. There will be a strong focus on preserving that tangible and intangible heritage. Tobago has an extremely rich cultural heritage.”

The annual Tobago Heritage Festival provides an avenue for the island’s rich cultural heritage to be showcased but Sheppard said a research centre will allow for access throughout the year.

The THTI CEO said they are currently at the stage of transition, which involves looking at the external environment but will soon complete the business plan for the University of Tobago. He said COVID presents an opportunity to illustrate where “school does not need a physical building.”

He gave a timeline of between two to three months for the launch of the first bachelor’s degree from the University of Tobago, pending approval from the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago and the first master’s degree within the next year.