My first go at a tertiary education wasn't great. I like many others got caught up in the University experience while having to mitigate against the things life threw at me.
I ultimately, was asked to leave and spent a few years on the periphery, it felt, of life trying to figure myself out. A long story, less long, when I picked myself up with the help of family and started an Associates I wanted to fast track my learning experiences to make up for lost time. So in my last year of my, in person, Associates degree, I started my online journey pursuing a Bachelors from the University of London.
That process, was exciting and I came to appreciate reading for a degree and sharing my opinions on course material untethered by a lecturer's opinions on the literature. Writing and sharing my unique experience and perspective as a Jamaican and here is where all distance courses shine. Keep this in mind as we'll come back to it.
So when I completed both Associates and Bachelors degrees I wanted more.
This is where my journey to find a scholarship began because the prices of tertiary degrees are prohibitive. I scoured the internet for Scholarships and came across Unicaf:
At the time, I thought it was a stretch because their offerings seemed to cater primarily to students in Africa. However, I always believe that, "No!", is the worst thing that the gatekeepers of your opportunities can say, and so if I were refused a scholarship, then I'd be no worse off than not applying for one. As with all scholarships an essay was a requirement and I wrote about wanting to ultimately contribute to the intellectual growth of my fellow Jamacian. My application was accepted in 2018 to a Masters Program in Business Management that was on offer from the University of South Wales.
It was a 2 year degree which I was able to complete just before the full onset of the pandemic, which is another point I'll return to, but I'd like to give a brief overview of the experience.
The way the registration process worked was that you'd need to provide documents to verify your educational experience and provide Unicaf with an idea of your ability to pay the tuition. A Unicaf representative would then reach out by phone and subsequently by email to assist with the process of completing your registration. This involves setting up your Unicaf portal through which payments could be made. My payment method of choice was via a credit card, the payment size being dependent on the size of your scholarship and the cost per module for your course.
Once registered with Unicaf you're also registered with the university and provided with access to the Unicaf portal through which access to Lecturers, your course schedule, materials are made available. Everything is done through the portal as it relates to not only submitting assignments but participating in group work, which is necessary for some course. A provision is also made through the platform for accessing reference articles and submitted writings are analysed by the Turnitin app to ensure that you haven't plagerized someone else's paper.
An immediate takeaway, from meeting my course mates was that there was a diverse group from all over the world. In the Jamaican context there may have been 3 of us at the beginning of the course and so this scholarship is undersubscribed to by Jamaicans. The pros of the experience in my opinion:
Distance learning was viable even in a pandemic
The scholarhsip is undersubscribed to by Jamaicans. Unicaf is always looking for my students in general and does have a referral program and they reach out often for alumni to spread the word.
Writing from your own unique experience is always interesting to lecturers and so the dirth of Jamaicans in the program means that you can add context to your submissions that other students may not be able to.
The scholarship for me was sizeable in terms of the amount deducted from the University tuition. This, however, does not mean that the cost is not prohibitive.
There is access to globally accredited programs from highly regarded universities
The con of the experience in my opinion:
This is a distance program and so you'll need to be highly motivated to do your research and in many cases teach yourself. A follow on point is that not all lecturers in my program were as responsive as we may have liked but this is to be expected in any tertiary experience.
I'd also like to emphasize that the team at Unicaf have managed their program through a pandemic without pause allowing many to achieve their educational goals. Now, this isn't promotional copy as I wouldn't write about this process if I didn't believe it to be a viable way to attain a degree. I have recommended this to at least two of my personal friends with one completing their masters and another on their way to doing so.
In Jamaica we have a saying "Nothing beat a trial than a failure". It means, summarily, nothing ventured, nothing gained and so I hope that this reconting of my experience opens a door for someone elese.
Stay blessed. Good luck!