Barbados is a newcomer to the offshore medical education industry and is well-poised to become a premier offshore medical education hub. The Caribbean has long allured offshore medical schools thanks to the charming tropical ambiance, proximity to the North American mainland and lower operational costs. Ross University in Dominica and St. George’s University in Grenada are the best known regional examples. A 2002 report by IDP Australia forecasts global demand for international higher education to increase to 7.2 million students in 2025. Offshore education services are a rapidly growing subsector of education services trade and can involve the supply of education services through all four modes of supply:

  • Mode 1 (Cross-border supply) – the service supplier provides the service from its territory into another territory, e.g: a university in one territory provides online courses to students in another territory
  • Mode 2 (Consumption abroad) – the service consumer of one territory consumes a service in another, e.g: a student physically goes to another country to pursue a course or programme.
  • Mode 3 (Commercial presence) – the service supplier establishes a physical presence in another territory to provide the service in that territory, e.g: a university establishes a medical school in another territory
  • Mode 4 (Presence of natural persons) – the service supplier enters another territory to supply a service e.g,: a lecturer delivers a course at a university in another territory

Offshore medical schools are primarily for profit and were established to meet the high demand for medical education relative to the limited posts in onshore North American universities. They cater primarily to non-national students, mainly North American, but also recruit local students. They are cost-effective, affording students a good quality medical degree at a cheaper cost and in a shorter time frame than offered by onshore North American universities. The curricula of offshore medical schools mirror their onshore counterparts. Several Caribbean offshore medical schools are either accredited or accredited with conditions. Clinical training/rotations and research are done at US hospitals, where most of the students ultimately aim to practise.

Barbados is a recognised regional hub for higher education, hosting one of the three main campuses of the University of the West Indies and a medical school. However, investors are increasingly recognising the island’s attractiveness as an offshore medical school hub. Barbados’ first and currently only offshore medical school, the American University of Barbados, was founded in 2011. It is accredited and recognised by the Barbados Accreditation Council and is approved and listed with the International Medical Education Directory (IMED). During the recent debate on the Caribbean Accreditation Authority Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (Incorporation) Bill, 2016, the Minister of Education announced that the Queen’s University Medical School of Barbados and the International School of Medicine of Barbados were granted charter and an application by another university is under consideration.

The Barbados Advantage

Barbados has all the pull factors that make it attractive to offshore medical schools. Aspiring doctors can enjoy amenities and infrastructure on par with those in their home countries, while savouring the sandy beaches, turquoise waters, warm sun and even warmer Barbadian hospitality.

Barbados continues to be highly ranked (no. 57) on the United Nations’ Human Development Index 2015 and is classified as a high income non-OECD country. It has a well-trained native English-speaking workforce, close geographic and cultural ties to the North American mainland, high-speed internet access and a world-renowned fertility clinic with high success rates. As one of the more mature destinations in the Caribbean, Barbados receives direct airlift from major cities across North America and Europe. It also has a relatively low crime rate, respect for the rule of law and political stability, good health care facilities and an accreditation council. No “college island” would be complete without a hopping nightlife and a myriad of cultural offerings for students to enjoy when they are not beating the books. In this, Barbados does not disappoint.

What benefits for Barbados?

The value added for the Barbados economy is immeasurable. In addition to employment generation and providing foreign direct investment and other foreign exchange inflows, there are positive spill-overs in the economy from student and non-local faculty spending on accommodation, living expenses and entertainment, as well as Value Added Tax (VAT) receipts. Besides diversifying and boosting the island’s services exports, the offshore medical education sector will enrich Barbados’ education offerings, and provide additional access to a medical education for locals seeking to practise abroad. Offshore medical schools also contribute to the host country through philanthropy.

With international student mobility expected to grow exponentially over the next few years, Barbados is well-positioned to tap into this demand and become the premier medical education services hub in the Caribbean.

About the Author

Alicia Nicholls
Alicia Nicholls -

Alicia Nicholls is an international trade and development consultant. She holds a Masters in International Trade Policy (MITP) with distinction, a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and a Bachelor of Science in Political Science.