A Welcoming EmbraceBy Professor Nigel E. Harris
This issue of the Pelican magazine will coincide with The University of the West Indies (UWI) hosting the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) Conference of Executive Heads at the Mona Campus in Jamaica. It will be a propitious moment for the ACU which will kick off its centenary celebrations marking 100 years since the establishment in 1913 of the Bureau of the Universities of the British Empire, the predecessor of the ACU. This is the longest existing association of universities of this kind.
UWI’s evolution is not unlike several other institutions in the ACU, our beginning first as a College of the University of London in 1948 and growing into a full-fledged independent University in 1962. What is unique about UWI is that it began as a single campus serving peoples of the British colonies in the Caribbean, then as these colonies became independent nations in the 1960s and 70s, the UWI grew into a regional university with campuses, in three island nations – Jamaica (Mona), Trinidad and Tobago (St. Augustine) and Barbados (Cave Hill) –and since 2008, there has been established a fourth campus with 46 sites in 16 contributing countries stretching across a million square miles of Caribbean Sea. Our University’s total enrolment has doubled in the last decade to 47,000 students with academic and administrative staff of a few thousand. Despite its dispersed constituencies, the University’s governance has remained largely unitary with its strategic directions, finances, qualityassurance of its programmes and policy formation determined by a central body comprised a collective of academics, administrative, government and private sector representatives drawn from countries across the Anglophone Caribbean.
The UWI is embarking on its 2012-2017 Strategic Plan, the fourth in a series of five year plans beginning in 1997. Our new Plan’s Vision is that “By 2017, the University will be globally recognized as the regionally integrated, innovative, internationally competitive university, deeply rooted in all aspect of Caribbean development and committed to serving the diverse people of the region and beyond.”
Our Mission Statement re-affirms our commitment “to advance education and create knowledge through excellence in teaching, research, innovation, public service, intellectual leadership and outreach to support the inclusive (social economic, political, cultural, environment) development of the Caribbean region and beyond.”
The critical themes that will be addressed in this plan include finances (reducing reliance on government funding); Teaching, Learning and Student Development; Research and Innovation; Employee Engagement and Development; Strengthening Internal Operation Processes; and Outreach.
It is in the context of strengthening our University’s outreach to the international community that the ACU onference represents an important opportunity for us. While it is true that the University has MOUs with hundreds of like institutions globally and we collaborate with dozens of universities in Europe, Canada, the USA and South America in research, through programmes such as EDULINK (funded by the European Union) and the University Consortium of Small Island States (UCSIS – comprising universities of the South Pacific, Mauritius, Malta, the American Virgin Islands and the Caribbean), we believe that our links can be expanded considerably. Thanks to tremendous advances in technology and ease of travel, we are living in a “shrunken world” where virtual and face-to-face exchanges between scholars and students are not only possible, but an imperative. Issues like climate change, expansion of renewable energy sources, chronic diseases, poverty, gender discrimination and much more are shared by all people. Global universities have traditionally been in the vanguard of advancing human development and peace through exchanges of ideas and promotion of understanding of our world’s diverse historical cultures, beliefs and ways of life. From its very beginnings one hundred years ago, the ACU has served as a vital resource in promoting these exchanges of people and ideas and it is our hope, that by bring colleagues from across the world to Jamaica and by extension, to the beautiful nations set within the picturesque Caribbean sea, we can promote more robust linkages that will more closely draw us into the globe and draw that globe more closely into our embrace.