Work in education – Claremont International University (Seychelles)

Claremont International University, also known as Claremont International University of Arts (CIUAS), was incorporated in the Seychelles on 14 October 2003. The power to confer degrees was contained in the Memorandum of Association of the corporation, and this was specifically approved by the Seychelles International Business Authority as an agency of the Seychelles government. The university name was inspired by the historic Claremont House in Surrey, England. A disclaimer on the website made it clear that there was no connexion with any institution with a similar name in the United States or elsewhere.

The University was an institution where the long-established principles of the conversion of experiential learning into academic credit were realised with integrity for the benefit of mature adults with significant prior learning. The University was consciously set up as an Internet-based entity operating internationally; it maintained no campus and its functions of assessment and administration were decentralized.

Behind the concept of the University was the viewpoint that experiential analysis (APL/APEL) was too often being undertaken to an indifferent standard by other institutions, or used merely as a front for the sale of degrees with little or no due process. The University was intended to implement a thorough experiential credit process under the supervision of qualified faculty, thereby allowing experienced adults to access an accelerated educational process in which their programme was effectively personalized.

The University’s prospectus put the matter thus:

We believe that the lifelong learning that occurs through experience is the most fundamental to personal development, and yet such applied learning is often not sufficiently highly regarded by the educational establishment. In effect, such lack of regard is tantamount to a denial of the rights of the student to have what they can demonstrate that they know recognised through the award of academic credit at the appropriate level, representing instead a reaffirmation of the privileging of the “educated” academic over hoi polloi. For many years the non-traditional movement in education has presented the contrary argument that learning gained in whatever context, be that inside or outside the classroom, is worthy of academic credit. It does not matter, for example, whether your proficiency in playing the organ was gained through college study, through private lessons or through being self-taught. Under this argument, which we enthusiastically support, your proficiency is equally academically valid, and equally worthy of conversion to academic credit, whatever the route taken to acquiring it. In short, we believe that education is about outcomes, not processes.

The concept of an Internet-based university built on experiential assessment was rightly regarded as highly controversial, and from its outset, the University attracted opposition and hostility from those favourable to the mainstream education establishment. Since its intention was to promote disruptive innovation from outside the establishment, this was accepted as inevitable. It quickly also became clear, however, that certain school operators who viewed the University as a challenge to their own substandard product were also determined to attack the University.

Under my Presidency, the University appointed as joint Chancellors my friends the Hungarian war hero General vitez Janos Karászy-Kulin, Grand Master of the International Order of St George, and his wife Dame Iris. They accepted their positions enthusiastically, and the General penned an address to future students.

The work I undertook for the University involved responsibility for all academic matters at strategic level during the phase prior to students being admitted. I was responsible for specification of the University’s academic methodologies based on research and practice evolved in the USA by leading non-traditional institutions and their application to curricular issues in consultation with faculty and board members. I was also responsible for the appointment of faculty, who included senior academics from UK and South African universities, and for supervising all aspects of faculty interface with students, as well as encouraging faculty research, collaboration and professional development.

I was further responsible for the negotiation of agreements with other institutions to bring about an emerging research profile. Using contacts gained through my other academic positions, I completed memorandums of understanding with Knightsbridge University, Denmark, and Ansted University, British Virgin Islands. The scope of these agreements included faculty exchange, credit reciprocation, joint professional development and joint research programmes.

Lastly, I was responsible for quality assurance matters, establishing models for good practice and benchmarking. Several recognised American credential evaluators agreed to evaluate the University’s degrees as equivalent to those issued by regionally accredited universities in the USA, which was a mark of the seriousness and commitment to quality that had been the hallmark of the University from the outset.

I was a member of the following University committees: Academic Council (Chair); Academic Standards (Chair); Institutional Review Board; Long Range Planning (Chair); Student Evaluation and Grievance.

In January 2004, I received an attractive offer from a consortium of educators to purchase the University outright. This was a surprise, since the University had only been launched for a few months. While a handful of internal candidates had been put through the University’s systems free of charge in order to test processes and procedures, the University had yet to embark on marketing or the recruitment of students.

One other factor that was a concern to me was that I had recently received legal advice that the current operating structure of CIUAS was not in compliance with relevant legislation. I disagreed with this advice, and sought further guidance both from other legal experts and from the relevant government departments. This process took some months, but concluded with a consensus that the advice I had previously received was wholly incorrect, and that the operating structure that had been in force had indeed been legally compliant after all. This caused me to question the motivation and possible bias of the lawyer I had initially consulted, whose firm had also acted for competitor institutions, and I came to believe that there had been a deliberate attempt to sabotage the University.

Meantime, however, the Board decided to accept the offer to purchase CIUAS. As part of the transfer agreement, I stepped down from my Board position but was to remain as President on a contracted basis. A new administrative and faculty team was put in place, and a new website instituted by the new Board. Unfortunately, the new Board soon developed other priorities and decided not to continue with CIUAS. While the website remained online for a year or so, no students were recruited and the University had effectively ceased activity.

I learned much from the work that had been done at CIUAS and would put this into effect some years later when the broader-based European-American University would launch to the public.