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THE NEW UWI: A Global System for the Future

Our regional media have been calling for an open dialogue on the matter of higher education — its capacity, quality, and funding — and role in our region’s transformation and development going forward. I welcome wholeheartedly this call and take this opportunity at the beginning of 2020 to make an intervention in respect of the restructuring of The University of the West Indies (The UWI) to better serve and survive. I wish to share what we are doing with the institution at its centre level, and no doubt my five colleague principals will contribute on the excellent strategic work they are leading on their respective campuses.
The old UWI, founded in 1948 and decolonized in 1962, was celebrated at home and abroad in 2018, on its 70th anniversary of service to the region and leadership within our nation-building project. Jamaica embraced the fledgling institution, surrounded it with respect and resources, and conferred prestige upon its mandate and mission.
It was saved as a regional institution when the West Indies Federation was dissolved. Sir Arthur Lewis, visionary leader and first Vice-Chancellor of the University, departed shortly thereafter, exhausted from the Herculean task. He did however, leave behind the template for its development.
The St Augustine and Cave Hill campuses in Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados, respectively were added in the decade, and their blended digital sibling, the Open Campus, saw light of day at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Guided by governments and nursed principally from the public purse, The UWI has risen to become the number one ranked university in the Caribbean.
Redefining the academy
In our 70th year we welcomed a new five-year strategic plan, built upon three performance pillars—Access, Alignment, Agility (generally known as the Triple A Strategy). Dedicated to “revitalising Caribbean development”, we sought to redefine the academy as the “excellent global university rooted in the Caribbean.” With this strategic mandate, we restructured and re-engineered our regional university to be robustly competitive in the context of 21st century global higher education realities.
A new institutional system was built out. Some elements of the structure were confined to the region, responding to demands for greater Access and Industry Alignment. Others were created within the global framework, providing international Agility that has served at this critical moment to propel the University into the top 4% ranked universities in the world. The spectacular speed with which this was achieved led the Times Higher Education to comment that: “The UWI has done in a few years what other universities have taken decades or centuries.”
The UWI embarked on an aggressive programme to [1] expand and modernise the regional capacity for quality access; and [2] establish strategic partnerships globally with prestigious, high performing universities within the context of our strategic objectives.
First, the Open Campus was restructured to remove competing or overlapping programming with the landed campuses. It was given a revised remit to facilitate other campuses in their transitions to dual mode programme delivery, nationally, regionally, and globally.
Second, in order to up-skill and upgrade national feeder colleges, a new Ordinance was approved to enable them to become Colleges of The UWI (CUWIs). In 2020, a pilot programme with Teacher Colleges and Community Colleges will be rolled out across the region. CUWIs therefore, are invited to join with The UWI campuses to create a seamless, interactive system of better quality and hopefully more affordable programme delivery.
The decision to establish the fifth campus of The UWI in Five Islands, Antigua and Barbuda should bring to closure the growing concern, that The UWI in its traditional format had underserved for decades the communities in the Eastern Caribbean (OECS). Increasing, justified resentment was palpable. The idea that The UWI had left behind some of its founding members on the development trajectory was just too much to bear.
A premier global brand
These innovative initiatives served to successfully promote strategic management focus on building up The UWI legacy into a premier global brand. We are calling it the “Reputation Revolution”. Fixing and promoting our reputation identity is the precursor to fixing our financial challenges. We are now better placed to attract global funding, and to market our programmes internationally. Critically, we are looking at ways to carry our brand to the private capital market, providing an opportunity for concerned and committed citizens, including our 100,000 alumni, to invest in their University. This is where the rubber will hit the road as we seek to sustain The UWI’s record of achievement and contributions. The University needs a significant injection of working capital in order to generate the kind of facilities needed to carry out the cutting-edge work required to serve the region at the highest expectation.
Team UWI wasted no time. Within the first year of our 2017-2022 strategic plan, a UWI Institute for Software Engineering (The UWI-CIIT) was established in Suzhou, China. Partnering with the Global Institute for Software Technology in Suzhou’s prestigious technology park, The UWI created the focus around the need for the region to be digitally transformed by producing the first generation of Chinese-trained software engineers. It is a ‘two-plus-two’ programme: students spend the first two years at a UWI campus in the Caribbean and two subsequent years in Suzhou. The programme, now open to another cohort of bright, enterprising students, is off to a good start. Pioneer students, who met with Prime Minister Andrew Holness on his recent visit to China, are making us proud.
Next, we built upon decades of academic relationships with the State University of New York (SUNY), and forged in Manhattan, a radical 21st century project. Together, we created a jointly owned and managed institution, the SUNY-UWI Centre for Leadership and Sustainable Development. Integrated throughout SUNY, but anchored within the Empire State campus in Brooklyn, the Centre is offering a joint online postgraduate diploma in Leadership for Sustainable Development. It is an innovative curriculum that maps and monitors progress across the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Students will graduate from both universities and the first cohort is well on its way.
Our next steps were taken in Africa where we have established in Nigeria, The UWI-University of Lagos Institute for African History and Diaspora Culture. In South Africa we engaged the University of Johannesburg and created The UWI-Johannesburg Institute for Global African Affairs.
21st century thinking and leadership
Our focus on research and teaching to build bonds for mutual economic growth, social engagement and cultural consolidation is consistent with our finest 21st century thinking and leadership. Already Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Head of CARICOM is calling for a CARICOM-African Summit in 2020, and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves proposed and won approval to establish an Africa-Brazil-CARICOM Commission to politically sponsor a new South-South Economic Agenda. At The UWI Mona, we have created the PJ Patterson Centre for Africa-Caribbean Advocacy in part to promote these developments.
Consistent with these initiatives is the reparatory justice discourse around colonialism in which we engaged the University of Glasgow following its declaration of having substantially benefited from endowment revenues and other financial incomes derived from the enslavers of Africans in the Caribbean. Intense negotiation between the two universities resulted in an apology from the University of Glasgow, and an agreement to invest £20 million to establish a reparatory justice institution entitled the Glasgow-UWI Centre for Development Research.
The objective of the Centre is to bring together Caribbean, Glasgow, and global researchers to collectively find solutions to African-descendant development challenges such as the explosion of debilitating non-communicable chronic diseases, new models of economic thinking and planning to transform post-plantation economies, and other agendas that will promote the social and material rehabilitation of persons who continue to suffer the negative effects of slavery, deceptive indenture, racism, and colonialism.
In recognition of the vital role Canada has played in Caribbean economic development we have agreed on the establishment of the Canada Caribbean Institute located at Brock University, designed to promote policy oriented research intended to upgrade this relationship. Likewise, we have created in Cuba, The UWI-University of Havana Centre for the Sustainable Development of Caribbean People, consolidating years of partnering in areas such as invasive surgical procedures, natural products commercialisation, and cultural industries.
Institutional partnerships
In November 2019, we welcomed to Jamaica, the Presidents of two respected universities who came with a mandate to agree on institutional partnerships with The UWI in innovative areas. President of the University of Miami signed a historical agreement for joint work between the universities which will domesticate a partnership around the idea that Miami is both an American gateway and a Caribbean city; President of Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, who agreed on the creation of The UWI-University of the Andes Centre. This Centre will serve as a bridge between the Caribbean and Latin America, not only for joint teaching and certification, but to promote industry and commercial partnerships around applied research.
This was followed by a visit from the Vice-Chancellor of Coventry University who signed off on the agreement to establish The UWI-Coventry Centre for Industry-Academic Partnerships. Coventry University has an enviable leadership status as the premier university in the UK for driving focused, innovative research in the manufacturing and services sectors. This is an area that The UWI has targeted for its 2030 vision.
In progress are negotiations with a European University to establish The UWI-Cariforum-European Institute, designed around the need to promote Caribbean access to the European Union, post Brexit. Also, we are searching for the most effective partner in India in order to develop a specialised artificial intelligence programme to add fuel to the regional digital transformation process and the application of robotics to production and services.
Transforming our operations and functions
The cumulative and collective impact of these institutional developments is transforming the operations and functions of The UWI. We are now managing within a global context and partnering rather than competing with the elite sector of international higher education. Embraced by, and strategically engaging some of the world’s finest universities, The UWI is now better positioned to continue its service to the region.
We are now just over the mid-point of our 2017-2022 strategic plan and looking to pursue the following approved outstanding strategic targets:
1.                   the multi-lingual culture in which all graduates going forward will be foreign language proficient at least within our hemisphere;
2.                   the entrepreneurial identity by which we will pursue a greater share of our resources in the private market, while attaining even greater efficiency in our operations;
3.                   institutionalising our global reputation as a lead university in climate smart research and advocacy in order to provide even greater service to the region;
4.                   advancement of the digital transformation of the University to strengthen our internal efficiency and energise Caribbean economic transformation and economic development;
5.                   the rollout of UWI Global online as the international portal for distributing and accessing commercially marketed academic programmes.
Media colleagues have raised many questions about the need for a broader and more diverse university system in which The UWI provides leadership. We are committed to this, and The UWI has made a significant stride towards it. There is much work to be done in this regard. The recent creation of Universities Caribbean as the umbrella organisation and forum for all regional universities is already making a critical contribution. I believe we are well on our way.

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