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Change & Transformation At UWI 1992-2007 - Back on the Periphery, Looking Back

Our Founding Fathers saw fit to give this institution the motto Oriens Ex Occidente Lux; a Light Rising from the West. I have often wondered if those who selected this motto hoped or expected that this university would be as revolutionary, as innovative, as progressive, as unexpected and as disruptive as an actual light rising from the West, rather than the East, would be!

Periods of change and transformation are frequently heralded by markers, which serve as symbols of the shift from what had been to what was to come. The establishment of the Centre for Gender and Development Studies (CGDS) in 1993 was one such marker. Establishing the CGDS, now the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS), was controversial, it represented a significant shift from mainstream academic offerings, it insisted on being established as an interdisciplinary Centre, unattached to a Faculty, and so was a major departure from the traditional structure and offerings of the UWI. Surely this was almost as controversial as a light rising from the West would be! Before the CGDS was established, Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 followed by Hurricane Alister (McIntyre) blew strong winds of change throughout the university – the first creating major damage, the second initiating a process of restoration and reconstruction. For example, committees were set up to see to the implementation of the “semester system” and “Grade Point Average” … significant departures from year-long courses and an established grading system. Separation of regional and campus responsibilities decentralised a number of management functions, thus granting greater autonomy to each campus; this meant that the Vice Chancellor would no longer also be Principal of the Mona Campus, and in 1990, Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Leslie Robinson became the first Mona Campus Principal.

Following his retirement in 1991, he was succeeded by Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Gerald Lalor. In 1991 also, the first female Pro Vice Chancellor and first female Deputy Principal in the university’s history, Professor Marlene Hamilton, was appointed, and in 1992, Mrs. Gloria Barrett- Sobers, the only female University Registrar to date, assumed office. Finally, women had earned a place in the institution’s Executive Management and in the Chancellor’s Procession!

In the 1990s the institution would undergo a major transformation. In 1994, The UWI, under the guidance of Sir Shridath Ramphal, received a report entitled: A New Structure: The Regional University in the 1990s and Beyond: Report of the Chancellor's Commission on the Governance of UWI. Implementation of the recommendations of the Chancellor’s Report began in 1996, with the establishment of a new structure – with regional Boards: for Undergraduate Studies, Graduate Studies and Research, for Non-Campus Countries (as they were called at the time) and Distance Education. . In 2004, the newly appointed Chancellor, Sir George Alleyne, appointed a team to revisit the 1994 Chancellor’s Report. This review resulted in changes in the structure, composition and functions of some of the governing Boards and Committees, including Council.

Despite the urgency of change, the major elements which were considered, planned for and given priority were strikingly familiar. Three elements / issues have been persistent and compelling: Access, Resources and Quality.


Gender equity has been a core value of our university from the outset. The 1945 Irvine Report envisioned a University of both men and women: The University should be open to women on precisely the same terms and conditions as are applicable to men. Similarly, no restriction should be imposed on grounds of race or creed.

The UWI Charter states: Men and women shall be eligible for admission to and as students of the University, and for appointment to any Authority, office or employment of or under the University. (Clause 4)

The first cohort of UWI students consisted of 23 men and 10 women – the trailblazing 33 medical students. In 1963/1964, the year in which I first graduated from this institution, among the last batch of London-UCWI students, the number of students enrolled exceeded 2000 for the first time; there were 1465 male and 722 female students registered across three campuses. This number had increased six-fold and the male/female ratio had changed by the time the CGDS was established thirty years later in 1993 when there was an enrolment of 13,996 students: 5938 men and 8058 women.

Despite this significant increase in enrolment, the numbers reflected a fairly low percentage of the school leaving population. The priority being given to tertiary and higher education in the1990s was worldwide and countries impressed by the economic advantage which education gave to countries such as Japan, proposed significant increases in tertiary education enrolment. In line with this global trend, in 1998 Caribbean governments indicated that their expectation was that by 2005, tertiary level capacity and output would be double what it was in 1997 when only 7.8% of school graduates were enrolled in tertiary level education.

This created immediate demand for increased access to tertiary education and resulted in major changes in the tertiary level landscape in Jamaica and the Caribbean, many of which were controversial, as the resulting “massification” was seen as a threat to quality. The demand for access also resulted in increased involvement of the private sector, as well as of a variety of providers external to the region, offering undergraduate and postgraduate degrees using a variety of delivery modes.

The increased access created by newly established educational institutions meant that UWI had to face active competition for students in a higher education environment where it had held a monopoly for almost 50 years. Also, as more and more students demanded access to tertiary education, the population became more diverse and their varying expectations had to be taken into account.

Responsiveness and relevance, always important, became even more vital. Existing linkages with tertiary institutions had to be nurtured and maintained, and new internal and external networks had to be created. The formation of the Association of Caribbean Tertiary Institutions (ACTI) brainchild of Sir Alister McIntyre, and the Association of Caribbean Higher Education Administrators (ACHEA) initiated by Mrs Gloria Barrett-Sobers, were two such networks. UWI had to consolidate its presence and impact in the Eastern Caribbean countries, as the competition from other external higher education providers was strong. Expanded curricular offerings, new schedules for delivery of programmes, part time and on weekends, increased the options for study by potential students.

Improved access was also evident in the changing profiles of Caribbean Heads of Government, Executive management of Caribbean institutions - as well as UWI - as more and more graduates of UWI assumed leadership roles. For the first time, a UWI alumnus was appointed as guardian of that light rising in the West: Professor Rex Nettleford, as Vice Chancellor in 1998.


Access in the academic sphere and the expansion of enrolment increased the demand on the physical resources and support services for the diverse student body. On the Mona Campus additional on-campus accommodation was provided in the form of the Aston Preston Hall (1995/1996) the Rex Nettleford Hall (2002) and the Gerald Lalor Flats (1995) to house graduate students.

The large majority of the burgeoning student population consisted of commuting students, and a Commuting Students’ Lounge was established in 2002.

Much of the significant change in the physical infrastructure of the Mona Campus was spearheaded by Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal, Professor Kenneth Hall, who assumed office in 1996. I was appointed Deputy Principal at the same time and the changes which had to be implemented and which transformed the Campus were not all welcome.

In 1996, two way traffic as well as parking were allowed on the Ring Road. This was untenable as the Ring Road literally became a parking lot with traffic snarls and delays. A Traffic and Parking Committee gave oversight to the introduction of one way traffic on the Ring Road, making it a no-parking zone and establishing the large parking lot behind Mary Seacole Hall. Construction of more attractive entryways at the Post Office and Irvine Hall Gates, separation of incoming traffic between the main Gate and the Post Office Gate and in 2006, installation of traffic lights at the Main gate, greatly improved the traffic flow on the Campus. Paving and defining walkways across the campus lawns was almost “sacrilege” but was critical for the preservation of green spaces.

Introduction of “commercial” eating areas on the Campus was also a vexed issue: KFC was first and this was objected to strenuously as it represented abandonment of tradition by occupying what had been Chancellor Hall’s dining room. Other important changes were welcome; these included refurbishing of the lecture rooms and installing equipment to allow for use of technology to enhance teaching; expansion and renovation of the Health Centre; refurbishing of the Students’ Union; conversion of the Computer Centre into Mona Information Technology Services (MITS); refurbishing of one part and transformation of the other part of the Senior Common Room into the Mona Visitors’ Lodge and Conference Centre; establishment of the Heads of Government Park. Demolition of the Gibraltar Camp Huts, which constituted a health hazard, elicited strong emotional objections, as it was felt that the history and heritage of the campus and university were being destroyed. Construction of the Founders’ Park on the site of the huts and recording the historical milestones of the university only partially pacified the objectors.

In the early 1990s, a new approach to student development had been introduced by Professor Marlene Hamilton and a team of staff members who identified with, and gave support to, this new thrust. They introduced student focussed programmes such as the Mentorship programme (Dr. Angela Gordon-Stair), the Quality Leadership programme (Dr. Thelora Reynolds) and a programme of Financial Assistance for needy students (Ms. Joy Dickenson). Arguments that such activities ought not to be the business of the University did not deter private sector partners like IBM, Shell, Terra Nova Hotel and Ashtrom from contributing to the success of these initiatives. In 1996, Dr. Thelora Reynolds was appointed Director of Student Services and her office had a budget, which allowed for continuation of the programmes and nurturing of the partnerships, as well as the development of service learning based in the Halls of Residence, and an Interpersonal Skills programme. Other staff members were very involved, for example, in Career development programmes (Mrs Merrrit Henry) and programmes implemented for students with special needs, with provisions made for those who were visually or hearing impaired (Professor Mark Figueroa and Mr Peter O’Sullivan). In 2007, as a result of partnership with the UWI Mona Lions Club, the Centre for Students with Special Needs was established.

An important change was the Office of Student Financing, a formalisation of the Financial Assistance for Needy Students initiative, to provide financial advice and assistance to students, and to compile and share relevant financial information with the administration.

The Sports programme was expanded and an annual student exchange programme was established with Florida State University. Later, the First Year Experience (FYE) was introduced to assist incoming students in their personal and academic development through involvement in a range of social, cultural, academic and citizenship activities as well as community service.

Participation in co-curricular activities was encouraged but the introduction of a co-curricular transcript and the granting of credits for involvement in co-curricular pursuits, which documented students’ involvement in out-of-classroom learning experiences were not universally accepted. The annual Student Awards Ceremony recognised students who had excelled academically and highlighted outstanding student performance in co-curricular activities, service and leadership.

In 1994, the UWI gained access to the Internet, and the transformation which this triggered was welcome. Acquisition of hardware and expansion of the fibre optic network increased possibilities for research, teaching and learning especially via distance mode. Another outcome was the building of capacity within the institution - development of staff expertise in the use of technology in their work, as well as facilitation of the purchase of computers, which provided the stimulus for exploring possibilities of new and creative ways of communicating with students and overcoming some of the learning difficulties they experienced.

One of the most dramatic and welcome changes which resulted from internet access was the shift from manual to the convenience of on-line registration.

The establishment of the Business Development Office (BDO), in 1997, was designed to develop the entrepreneurial potential of the Campus so that income could be generated to provide financial support for research and resources. The Natural Products Institute and the Mona Institute of Applied Sciences (MIAS) were launched in 2000 and 2001 respectively, followed by Mona GeoInformatics (GIS) and The Mona Geoinformatics Institute (MGI). Over time, new commercial ventures were attracted to the Campus – an additional Bank, a variety of eating establishments, a travel agency, and other potential income generating initiatives such as:

(i) Mona Digital & Offset Limited, formerly the University Printery;

(ii) Mona Institute of Medical Sciences (MIMS) (providing rentable office premises for doctors employed by the UWI and the University Hospital to offer services to patients who wish to access these services privately;

(iii) News Talk 93 FM (formerly Radio Mona).

Several private sector companies partner with the institution to provide scholarship support, research grants as well as infrastructure development.

The Institute of Business (now the Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM) introduced self-financing graduate programmes in 1989. The Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA) was first offered in that year in association with Penn State University.

Professor Gordon Shirley initiated construction of The Sir Alister McIntyre building with its aesthetically pleasing design of study spaces, ponds and fountains; initially erected to house the Mona School of Business, it was later expanded to accommodate other departments of the Faculty of Social Sciences as well as the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. Increasingly, new academic programmes, especially those at the Master’s level, had to be “self-financing”, in that students had to pay the full economic cost and not just a percentage of the tuition fee.


The resistance, controversy and contention surrounding the aspects of change and transformation in the 1992-2007 period were attributed, in almost all instances, to concerns about ensuring and maintaining quality.

Quality is a multidimensional issue in an educational setting, incorporating concepts of relevance, efficiency, effectiveness and, of course, strategic use of resources. The demand has been, and continues to be, for institutional quality; programme quality; input, process and output quality, and particularly the quality of the graduates produced.

Establishing a system of Quality Assurance in the university to ensure ‘academic quality control’ became the primary mandate of the new Board for Undergraduate Studies. The first Pro Vice Chancellor to assume that portfolio, Professor Marlene Hamilton, undertook the significant challenge of formalizing quality assurance initiatives already introduced at faculty level, and more importantly, carrying out the mandate handed to BUS which was to transform UWI into a quality-driven institution.

The UWI always had internal quality assurance measures for its programmes, including regulations governing course and programme approval, use and approval of first and second examiners, university and external examiners. The new, insistent demand for quality was based on the need to ensure that UWI’s first degrees met international standards and the importance of demonstrating UWI’s commitment to the international concern about measuring and ensuring quality in higher education.

The change process was initiated in1996 when a formal process of both internal and external quality assurance was developed and implemented; Professor Hamilton was succeeded by Professor Hilary Beckles in 1998, and a Quality Assurance Unit was established in 2001. Independent, external quality reviews are now carried out on a departmental basis on a five- to seven-year cycle.

Quality assurance procedures and practices have now become an accepted part of the culture of the institution. Other initiatives which resulted from the Quality Assurance thrust included:

1. Staff Development: Instructional Development Units (now renamed the Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning), were established on each campus Course and programme approval: Course approval as well as other functions related to quality in research, scholarship and practice were undertaken at Mona by the newly established Academic Quality Assurance Committee (AQAC), now replicated on the other Campuses.
2. Matriculation: changes introduced to facilitate new qualifications associate degrees and the International Baccalaureate were allowed to matriculate under the ‘or equivalent’ phrase .
3. Examinations: In 2006 a specially convened Task Force reviewed the existing examination system and recommended important changes to various aspects.
4. Grade Point System: Introduction of the GPA.
5. Library: improvements in technology allowed students to access to and make effective use of learning resources such as on-line databases. A 24-hour reading room was introduced.
6. Student Services: Offices of Student Services (later renamed Student Services and Development) were established on all three campuses to promoted the affective learning of students.
7. Quality Audits, Surveys of key stakeholder perceptions, Student evaluation of teaching, as well as of services, all fed into the change process so as to improve the quality of the learning environment and impact the quality of the UWI graduate.
8. Student support: There was also increased focus on providing personal support for students in the form of academic advising and counselling.


Quality in education has become almost synonymous with accreditation, which is valuable to graduates who use it as a ‘passport’ to employment regionally and overseas, as well as for further study. When notice was given that the functioning of the United Kingdom General Medical Council (GMC) as an accreditation body for medical schools in Commonwealth countries would end in 2003, this external change forced an immediate response which was critical in ensuring that the quality of the medical programme was endorsed by a reputable accreditation body. The UWI spearheaded a successful initiative which was approved by CARICOM, and the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP) is now functional, active and well respected.

Two events which have become part of the Mona Campus tradition are Research Day, introduced in 1998, and the Mona Academic Conference, first held in 1999. Both were primarily intended to showcase the quality of the Campus’s research work and demonstrate its commitment to providing relevant and innovative responses and solutions to national and regional issues.

A major highlight of the Research Days has been the Principal’s Awards ceremony. The research work of faculty members is subjected to rigorous scrutiny by their peers as they compete for the awards which are given for various achievements. Several research projects undertaken by the academic staff are sponsored and funded by overseas foundations and other entities. The Office of Sponsored Research (OSR) – now re-named the Mona Office of Research and Innovation – has responsibility for coordinating externally sponsored research and handles matters pertaining to licensing, patents and joint ventures. In recognition of the primacy of quality in the university, the Office of the Mona Campus Principal established an Office of Planning and Institutional Research (OPAIR) to support of the Campus's strategic planning activities, policy formulation, decision-making, assessment, and compliance reporting.


Much progress is evident. The University has a fully operational 4th Campus … the Open Campus – the Mona Campus has a satellite campus in Western Jamaica, the orange grove across the road from the main gate has been replaced by the grand new Regional Headquarters, Faculty buildings for Law and Medical Sciences (now offering dentistry as well), The Mary Seivwright building incorporating the School of Nursing, the expanded University Bookshop, new Halls of Residence – have all dramatically transformed the campus.

The globalization of education is well underway: universities are establishing campuses overseas or forming partnerships with overseas universities to offer joint degrees. Associated with this global trend is the importance of being able to communicate well, with diverse cultural groups and in at least one foreign language.

The UWI has offered the more traditional foreign languages for decades; more recently Japanese was added and now the Confucius Institute is home to knowledge about China, Chinese culture and languages.

In terms of relevance and responsiveness, debate and controversy surround the value of vocational vs. academic programmes - the employability factor is a critical variable as employers demand competencies from their employees that are closely linked to the needs of the workplace; the value of interdisciplinary vs disciplinary learning – ensuring that the curriculum is sufficiently flexible and the teaching methods such as to allow for interpreting and carrying out analysis and synthesis of ideas and concepts, which are vitally important in ensuring an understanding of the “connectedness of knowledge” as well as expanding the existing boundaries of knowledge.

All of this places a mammoth responsibility on educators to be open to change in order to provide the quality education which will allow students to be the problem solvers of the future, by developing now the critical thinking skills needed to function in that world. Crucial literacies for 21st Century learners are: creativity and innovation; critical thinking and problem-solving; communication; collaboration. We note particularly the 6Cs of Education for the future: Think CRITICALLY, COMMUNICATE Clearly, Work COLLABORATIVELY, Embrace CULTURE, Develop CREATIVITY and Utilize CONNECTIVITY.

At UWI there are exciting indicators of technology change: I was literally blown away by the presentation of the honorary doctorate to Professor Godfrey Palmer at Graduation 2015. Although he was in Scotland, the computer linkup made it appear as though he was right on stage at Mona.

But our three issues remain paramount:

• Access: We need to continue to attract and retain the best talent in our country and the region (students as well as faculty and staff). We must engage in the curricular transformation needed to ensure attraction and production of the graduate whose total educational experience is an integrated learning one, and whose needs are met, regardless of whether they are gifted, or specially challenged. Young, bright faculty and staff need to be nurtured so that future guardians of that special light rising in the West are identified.

• Resources: The cost/affordability balance remains paramount. Who will foot the bill to permit access for as many as seek, and are qualified to receive? Initiatives which reduce dependence on government funding are crucial.

• Quality: Remaining responsive and relevant, effective and accountable – this is the quality imperative.

Also, 23 years after the CGDS came into being, the gender discourse remains contentious and controversial. Enrolment at UWI now totals 52,032 with a gender distribution of 31.8% male to 68.2% female students. Currently, the most important issue relating to gender seems to be what is being termed male underachievement.

Calls are being made to address this as a priority, placing other concerns such as gender based violence, sexual abuse of children (mostly girls), human trafficking (mostly girls and women) on the back burner.

I accept that the situation of boys must be addressed. As Professor Stephen Vasciannie recently commented to a group of school principals:
Many of our boys find aspects of school boring, or as the late Rex Nettleford once said, “boringly irrelevant”. Various explanations have been offered for the relative underperformance of high school boys in the competitive bid to enter university. We need to develop systemic methods of addressing this problem, without compromising either standards of quality or principles of fairness towards girls.

Bearing in mind the last five words of Vasciannie’s comment: “principles of fairness towards girls”, however, I want to share a few statements from the article written by Steven Jackson in the Jamaica Gleaner of Dec 9, 2015 where he is reporting the findings of the Global Gender Gap Report (2015) published late November by the World Economic Forum (WEFORUM), a non-aligned Europe-based intellectual group, in which data from 145 countries were analysed.

• For every $100 made by a man in Jamaica, a woman earns around $60 on average.

• The overall rank of 65 (Jamaica) equates to one of the worst in the Caribbean. Barbados topped the region at 24, Cuba at 29 and Trinidad & Tobago at 46.

• The pay-gap report, now in its 10th edition, indicated that Jamaica continues to worsen from its peak ranking of 25 among 115 countries in 2006, then dipping to 52 in 2014, before free-falling this year.

• Interestingly, Jamaica scored the best in the world in the sub-rank index of females enrolled in tertiary education. Based on these data, it would seem that male “underachievement” in formal education converts into much greater economic advantage for these men!! The complexities of the gender issue in our societies will, I am sure, remain a priority area of research and controversy.

Preparation of the Strategic Plan for 2017-2022 is probably already underway, contemplating strategic modification or extensive transformation of the institution’s functioning as the environment throws up new challenges.

Vitally important, however, in the midst of revolutionary thinking, controversial proposals and contentious methodologies, which will probably generate creative rupture and transformation, is holding fast to the enduring values and maintenance of the institution’s integrity by ensuring a certain degree of continuity.

May God continue to guide all who lead, work and study here - now and in the future – you all are the guardians of that light!

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