The College of The Bahamas was birthed long before its doors opened, in the aspirations of successive generations of young Bahamians who were striving for social and economic mobility. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, there was little opportunity for the people of The Bahamas to gain an education beyond the secondary school level. From the 1940s onward, the small group of educated Bahamians who could actually access a secondary school education, and who wished to be further educated, were obliged to pursue their studies abroad, in colleges and universities either in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, or at the University of the West Indies.
Significant efforts were made in the 1950s and 1960s to provide a local post-secondary education for those who wanted to improve their circumstances and better their professional prospects. In 1961 the Bahamas Teachers’ College re-opened in New Providence, after having shut in 1957, following just seven years of operation. A second teachers’ college, the San Salvador Teachers’ College, was opened in 1968 to provide training for the growing number of prospective and uncertified teachers who could not be accommodated in Nassau, and to prepare them for the prospect of teaching in rural Family Island settings. Technical and vocational education was being provided in the country by a number of institutions from the 1940s, and in 1971 two of these institutions merged to form the C. R. Walker Technical College. Finally, the renowned Government High School, which was the first fully government-sponsored high school in The Bahamas, offered a highly-regarded sixth form programme. (Sixth form was the phase of education that took place after secondary school typically ended. Students in the programme would study for advanced school-level qualifications.)
The desire for a national tertiary-level institution became more pronounced in the period leading up to Bahamian Independence, when a number of significant political and social changes were taking place. Internal self-government was granted to The Bahamas by Great Britain in 1964, and the year 1967 ushered in Majority Rule. One of the most widely touted policies of the newly elected government was that of “Bahamianization”, an immigration policy that was, at its core, based on the principle that Bahamians should be allowed to participate fully in the workforce as skilled labourers and professionals, rather than having to perform in limiting roles while choice jobs went to expatriates. It was believed that Bahamians who were being groomed to fill certain positions because of the policy could and should be educated in The Bahamas, at a national college.
In 1972 the Government first publicly stated their intention to establish a College of The Bahamas, in a White Paper entitled Focus on the Future that provided that “the apex of the systems of primary and secondary education for the nation will be the College of The Bahamas. This essentially and intentionally flexible, though integrated, institution is intended to meet the special needs of The Bahamas in education, training, and cultural development.” This statement served as the blueprint for the Independence-era institution, which was formally established in 1974 by an Act of Parliament, through the amalgamation of the four post-secondary institutions: the two teachers’ colleges, the technical college, and the sixth form programme.
The College was initially housed in two locations, one being the site of the former Government High School building in Oakes Field, and the other being on Soldier Road, where the C. R. Walker Technical College was located. Dr. John Knowles, a Bahamian professor at a Canadian university, was brought on to lead the College as its first principal, and Dr. Dennis Meakin, a Canadian, was appointed Registrar. The College was governed by its newly formed Council, which was directly answerable to the Bahamian government. Initial tuition fees were minimal, and the institution’s expenses were fully financed from the public purse.
There were skeptics in its early days. The institution, seen by some as an “impossible dream” and the haphazard fulfilment of a wild political promise, faced considerable derision from the Bahamian public. Though it struggled at first, the College survived, and went on to thrive, becoming, some 40 years later, what we now know to be the University of The Bahamas.