July 2018

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In Biblical terms, three score and ten signals the end of a person’s natural lifespan. For The University of the West Indies, a 70th anniversary is a milestone that marks a re-committal to service and leadership in and for the Caribbean.

Our first generation of scholars and statesmen had a dream of a better life for the people of this region. In 1968, then Barbados Prime Minister Errol Barrow cogently captured this sentiment at the Cave Hill graduation ceremony when he declared that the citizens of the region should be encouraged to regard the University as their most important asset; he suggested the efficient growth of this University was almost their only path to prosperity.

That mission remains true for The UWI although, for the most part and against the odds, the dream of these pioneer scholars and statesmen has become a reality. Over the years, The UWI has grown a network of more than 120,000 alumni. These men and women have contributed to Caribbean growth and development at the highest level of government, in the corporate world, and in professional life. Twenty-six of our graduates have been Heads of Government or President; one is a Nobel Laureate. Moreover, The UWI remains a major source for research, advice and consultancy on Caribbean issues.

The very existence of The University of the West Indies is symbolic of Caribbean independence and our resurgence as arbiters of our own destiny. For those of us in the leadership capacity at this institution, the struggle to keep the dream alive and vibrant for the benefit of thousands of Caribbean citizens is very real and often challenging. Still, we persist because we are true to our mandate to be a University for the people.

At a time when our regional societies, ecologies, and economies are delicately poised, the question now is: “What next?” How does The UWI up its game to ensure that the Caribbean is placed on a robust trajectory, one that leads to sustainable development? Achieving this goal is at the very essence of The UWI Triple-A Strategic Plan for the quinquennium 2017-2022.

The contribution of the St Augustine Campus to the Triple-A strategy is based on UWI’s supportive role in preparing Caribbean citizens for a spectrum of future realities.

This spectrum is bounded at one extreme by a worst-case scenario that is undeniably total societal collapse, caused by catastrophic natural disasters or by man-made disasters such as overpopulation, escalating crime, or even economic stratification. Of note is the fact that history has shown that the divide between rich and poor, if left unchecked, ultimately results in societal collapse.

I suggest that at the other extreme lies the best case – almost Utopian – scenario in which our “Caribbea” would have achieved the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are pegged on initiatives that build sustainability in the societal, ecological, and economic domains of society. In that future state, governance and culture would have evolved to all but eliminate the possibility of the kind of man-made disasters seen in Venezuela or in the crime-stricken countries of the Caribbean.

In the aftermath of natural disasters, such as those we faced from the super hurricanes of 2017, our citizens would be able to survive, and go on to rebuild and maintain resilient communities that would grow into flourishing societies. Citizens would understand, respect, and protect the ecology for future generations. Our economies would be strong and robust, buoyed by foreign exchange earned by a mix of large companies and an extremely healthy network of innovation-driven, export-oriented SMEs. As alluded to below, we cherish the thought of our graduates creating these new SMEs, thus growing what many consider to be an important sector for the development of Caribbean economies.

We, on the St Augustine Campus, have identified two major initiatives for immediate implementation in support of the Triple-A strategic plan.

The first seeks to reform our core education processes to become more efficient and more relevant to society and the workplace, and to increase access to a wider range of individuals, significantly the underserved. The target is a holistically trained graduate who is a model citizen of the”‘Caribbea” as characterised by the best-case scenario, but who is also prepared for the eventuality of society falling far short of the ideal.

The second initiative seeks to address what our St Augustine team calls the “Innovation Imperative” that will enable the creation of an innovation ecosystem, one that provides all that is necessary to move potentially viable original ideas and concepts to commercial reality.

Of great note is the fact that we have broadened our focus beyond just economic innovation to include ecological and social innovation for the near-Utopian scenario.

Indeed, this last strategic initiative is of the highest priority for the simple reason that it represents a significant departure in UWI business and culture. From an economic perspective, its output will be two-fold: creating spin-off companies that will enter national and regional economic spaces; and strengthening the international competitiveness of existing companies, all to increase the foreign exchange earning potential of “Caribbea”. A significant by-product will be the creation of a culture of innovation.

All of the above is within the scope of The UWI and its St Augustine Campus. Yet, the challenge of preparing Caribbean peoples for the best- and worst-case scenarios described above, and the spectrum of possibilities that lie in between, is really a responsibility for Caribbean governments, the private sector, NGOs as well as education institutions.

The Campus therefore sees the need to take the lead in working with governments and the private sector to build the national and regional frameworks that will support and drive the robust national innovation ecosystems required to strengthen Caribbean economies and enable the best possible future scenario. Furthermore, the challenge of preparing citizens for the worst-case future scenario really requires a re-engineering of national education agendas across the Caribbean. In particular, it requires that all citizens should possess basic survival skills, complemented by a high level of physical literacy.

So, 70 years on, the mission of The UWI continues. The revitalisation of the Caribbean is placed at the highest priority in the UWI Triple A Strategic Plan. It requires nothing less than a significant culture shift among the people and institutions of “Caribbea” even as it faces the increasingly dynamic changes in global economics, society, politics, ecology and technology.

As we look to the next 70 years beyond this anniversary, the St Augustine Campus stands ready and eager to play its part in helping The UWI and “Caribbea” successfully rise to the ongoing challenge.

Professor Brian Copeland
Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal


Campus Principal: Professor Brian Copeland
Director of Marketing and Communications: Dr. Dawn-Marie De Four-Gill
Editor: Vaneisa Baksh (Email: vaneisa.baksh@sta.uwi.edu )
Acting Editor: Shereen Ann Ali (Email: ann.ali@sta.uwi.edu )

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