“Keep asking questions” – Interview with Colin Jenkins, former UWCAC Principal

Gala von Nettelbladt, Germany and Rina Amanda Kuusipalo, Finland (AC 08-10); Daniel Prinz, Hungary (AC 07-09)


Colin Jenkins worked at Atlantic College from the early 1970s in different positions: Biology teacher, Senior Scientist, Houseparent, Member of Environmental Monitoring Unit Service, Director of Studies, CAS Coordinator and Principal. He has worked as Examinations Director and Deputy Director General of the IB, Acting Principal of the UWC in Singapore, helped establish the UWC in Costa Rica and is now working on the establishment of a new UWC in Maastricht.

In what ways is the new UWC in Maastricht different from the already existing ones?

It will quite different in lots of ways. Maastricht has quite interesting problems, such as the age range. I was head in Singapore after AC; at Singapore that was not a problem, because what you do is to divide the day: younger children are free at different times from the older ones, so this how you can organize the school. It is much more complicated than the situation in AC where everyone is at the same age. But Singapore managed to do it and to certain extent so did Waterford.

The international schools in Maastricht at the moment have 48 nationalities. What we are trying to do at the moment is to change their program and add UWC elements to it. This is not so easy because many of the students have already been there and now we have to tell them to behave slightly differently. For example we are trying to increase service. The first year is going to be hard, then we will top it up with UWC students. It is not going to be perfect. It is important that UWC students don’t initially criticise it. Of course they always find excuses to criticise everything, which is good.

Why is it already the fourth college in Western Europe?

UWCs are not founded in a planned manner, they arise from the people living at their location. The Dutch national committee is the best and most organized one and has been providing 25 scholarships for students to go to different UWCs.

We only got permission from the UWC to proceed fully last week. We didn’t just say “let’s have a college”, we had to show what we were doing what program we were going to have. The college is very interested in taking students from the Middle East.We have already negotiated in order to get students from Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Israel etc.

Would it be good to establish more UWCs outside the Western World?

It would but it is very hard to raise the funds. The project in Kenya has been going on for a long time. The UWC is Costa Rica could be founded because we had a substantial donation from one single sponsor which is enough fror 7-8 years. The UK has a lot of money and people to donate. Now, Maastricht in Western Europe will probably be okay. We already have 5 years finance.

What do you think about establishing UWCs in countries that do not comply with a set of democratic values?

How do we go to places that are no comfortable? Certainly we carry ideals of openness. The whole fundamental reason for the UWC is to bring people with different outlooks together. This might be a western ideal or a universal human value but if we don’t have it then we don’t have the basis of the colleges at all. We could have a madrasa, with one single value. Some of the horrors of the world happen because we don’t all believe in this.

But we are trying, for example in Mostar. It was a project, not college. The idea there was to go to an area which has suffered very recently. We wanted to bring together Serbians, Macedonians, Bosnians, Croats. When I was working at AC we regularly had Yugoslavs. If you asked me what they were, I wouldn’t know. That is now broken up at when the project was started students were doing horrible things.

See what happened in AC when it was founded? The war ended in 1945. The following times were disastrous. We needed the US to help us. The period until the 1950s was very grim. That was the impetus that got this place set up. The people who suffered that, and who were senior military people then, had this huge impetus to say “how can we make the world better?”.

Bringing young people here doesn’t make the world better, it just makes those people better. It is arrogant to say that we can make the world better. We can’t assume that we are so clever and special that we can change the world. We can make a little effort.

There are also so many other people out there whose will is good. Whether we can make a difference? We try to.

What do you think of the low level of economic diversity and the scholarship situation?

It is very difficult and it is going to be more difficult for a short while. When I started here, every one of the thirteen counties in Wales sent a student on a scholarship from state schools. This is now zero. Then we got money from various other sources and culturally and economically the diversity improved further. We could take more risks, accept students from very deprived backgrounds.

How can we improve on this?

Money. If you want to take students from economically difficult backgrounds you have to offer them scholarships which requires funding.

Is the selection system fair? I would say, if you are very rich it is quite easy to get in.

That is true. Anyone running a place like this, has to say that we have to survive. Although our principle has always been to select students based on merit, there has never been a time when we had a all students on scholarships. It is very expensive to run this place.

We have always taken IQs but the quota has become bigger in recent years. If we wanted to downsize, not take IQs, we would have to leave this place.

Funding has become much more difficult because the fundraising capacities of charities have increased. Our argument is intellectual, not emotional, and thus harder for possible sponsors to relate to on a personal level.

What do you think of the initiative of an AC Diploma? Is it an opportunity to make UWCs more special?

It would recognize achievements that are outside the IB diploma, such as the very special service programme. In many respects we are not alone anymore. I looked at the international day at the International School of Maastricht, and it didn’t look too unlike a UWC. Our expectation here is four hours of service and two or three activities a week. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.

Most people at other international schools are already part of an international community.

I think, we are different. One of the things the Dutch government asked us was to make the college a laboratory for service. Because all state schools in Holland are now required to do service. But they don’t really know what do to and how to do it. So if we set up a service program then teachers and principals from around the country will come and see how we do it. The trouble or the good thing about The Netherlands is that they have a very good social security system. It is quite difficult to find places to do service at.

Where is the IB taking us? What is the right balance between academic studies and extracurricular activities?

AC has the lowest teaching contact time of all IB colleges, but still, this is a question that has been put to me since probably 1973. That time we had 600 candidates, then when I was director of the Diploma, we had 12000, by 2010 we may have 2.5 million.

I actually think that it is the most brilliant design. It was designed around 1969 and it hasn’t changed since then. So the actual form really stood the time.

I think second years students make the same mistake they always used to make. They make a lot of fuss about it. This is the main problem.

Part of this is the computer you are using just now. I always say engage your brain before your fingers. When I was Director of Studies, students used to say things like “I am working on the fourth draft of my EE”. The EE is not a PhD thesis. It is not for a Nobel Prize.

I think there is a good balance, really.

What is your opinion about offering more opportunities for self reflection, possibly in writing?

That adds more pressure and may become a burden as well. I was very much against “CAS”. It came in around 1985, because the IBO thought that many school weren’t doing the IB very well. I was against this evaluation process, I was outvoted, and it came in as a formal requirement. Things like Amnesty may be recognized in the AC Diploma.

One of the differences in a UWC is that most students still come from where they come from. They bring with them their national psyche and this provides many opportunities.

How does the UWC movement accomplish its mission?

I think we do not have a 100% success. Not everyone leaving this place is a saint looking through international eyes of progress. But an awful lot of them do. An osmosis happens to your attitudes, you absorb tiny things in your dorms, in a class, in the dining hall. The eyes you are leaving this place with are not the ones you came with. Foremost, there is the concern for others, a certain thoughtfulness. So it doesn’t matter what your outlet for this is, whether you’re a President or do grassroots volunteer work. I remember students used to get angry when people called them “the leaders”, gave them this “golden halo”. That’s not what we’re about, being on top, whatever it may be for each individual, they have a certain urge – of course it’s not only the UWCs that give people this determination. In order for us to be distinctive in UWCs, we do need to discuss in those places, develop further, give our time to others. And lastly, I certainly urge you to keep asking the questions, because, of course, I’m not always right.

– United World College Student Magazine –


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