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EDITORIAL: UWI needs global focus

Barbados Nation

EDITORIAL: UWI needs global focus

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IS THE UNIVERSITY of the West Indies (UWI) planning to depart from the current way of thinking and functioning by going global?

The new vice chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, who until recently was the principal of the Cave Hill campus, answered the question with an emphatic yes.

“Globalisation of the university is at the top  of our agenda in terms of moving the UWI out of its traditional environment into all of the spaces where our people have been,” said the Barbadian and the Caribbean’s top university administrator.

To transform our leading tertiary educational institution into a school with a global reach, Sir Hilary wants institutes of Caribbean studies established  in China, New York and Brazil. They would create opportunities designed to satisfy the galloping academic expectations of our youth when it comes  to critical thinking, high levels of training and jobs  that would utilise their well-honed skills.

But to achieve their goals, the UWI and Sir Hilary will need all of the support they can get from CARICOM governments, including Barbados’,  the region’s people and from forward-thinking partners in the countries where the vision for expansion will take the university.

They have earned that support.

UWI recently secured the green light for its global plans from Caribbean prime ministers and presidents when they met in Barbados and it is moving full speed ahead, first with China, New York at a slower pace and later Brazil. China’s prime minister has embraced the idea and so too have the two top leaders of America’s largest comprehensive system of higher education, the State University of New York. Both Carl McCall, chairman of SUNY’s board of trustees, and Dr Nancy Zimpher signalled their approval during recent meetings in Manhattan with Sir Hilary. That’s  good news.

The Caribbean must have a global focus in order to serve the region well in the years ahead. As it stands, we are at a crossroads, in great need of what Sir Hilary calls innovation, research, direct professional training and higher education in general. Unless prompt action was taken, he insisted, “the countries would be left behind the other regions of the Western Hemisphere”.

The crossroads and the challenges confronting the archipelago of islands and coastal states are seen in diverse ways. Sixty per cent of our graduates who earned PhDs at Cave Hill in Barbados, Mona Jamaica and St Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago have left the Caribbean in search of professional and academic opportunities elsewhere. Governments, including Barbados and Jamaica are strapped for cash and are reducing their investments in higher education.

In Barbados, the Cave Hill campus has seen its enrolment fall precipitously and it recently had cash flow problems. As if those factors weren’t enough, the region is one of the few areas of the world experiencing sluggish economic growth after the impact of the Great Recession sent economies into a tailspin.

Hence the vice chancellor’s potent argument that “unless we invest more in innovation, research and direct professional training and in higher education in general”, the Caribbean would be left behind”.

It is vital that the academic presence Sir Hilary, Mr McCall and Dr Zimpher have in mind for UWI in New York becomes a reality. Failure is not an option.