May 2017

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Our Research Matters

Just a few days ago, I was particularly delighted to welcome participants to the Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation in the Caribbean. The conference provided an opportunity to restate the mission of the St. Augustine Campus to create an innovative and entrepreneurial university, a vital partner to industry and to Governments in Caribbean development.

In explaining the vision, I reminded the audience that experts agree that innovation, defined as the application of new knowledge for positive societal benefit, is a necessary component of wealth generation, which is itself necessary to fuel sustainable development. Furthermore, the most complete wealth generation engine involves, at least in the specific case of commercial products, the creation of or access to cutting edge scientific research which can motivate product conception and creation. Once viability is determined, the new product is legally protected, and prepared for the market entry. At the same time, the required production system is developed as well as a corresponding marketing strategy. The new product is then put into sales and distribution. At The UWI, this process that takes a brand new concept to market entry is referred to as an “Innovation Pipeline.”

Significant to this condensed description of the innovation pipeline, is the fact that any infusion of newness into the product enhances its competitiveness through differentiation, thus increasing its chances of being a true innovation. This, by the way, suggests that the innovation pipeline needs not terminate solely on brand new products but also on improving the competitiveness of existing products and processes. Also significant, is the fact that, in developed countries, a relatively substantial proportion of profits, some 4% of GDP in the US, are used to fund the R&D in the innovation pipeline; this, in fact, completes the structure of the wealth generation engine. However, in the developing world, not only are some “parts” of the innovation pipeline missing, but the contribution to the R&D cycle components are also significantly lower, some 0.04% of GDP in the case of Trinidad and Tobago.

There is no question that we at The UWI have to expand our thinking from the traditional research for publication model to move to a model that connects our research to innovation. There is clear evidence that the Campus has started the process of building the pipeline and nurturing the knowledge that it will transport.

Last month, I attended the first professorial lecture of Professor Patrick Hosein, who spoke on the subject of “Research, Innovation and Education in STEM.” He described his work in a wide range of fields, and how he has designed courses and adjusted teaching methodologies to enhance the way students learn. For instance, knowing that companies like Google and Facebook were heavily involved in data analytics, he set up a Master of Science programme in Data Science. The Msc in Computer Science – his professorial specialty – has a component of wireless technology that is in high demand. With TTLab, he has also made it possible for students to network internationally, underscoring his belief that students need to be prepared intellectually to meet the needs of today’s world and that this is best done by strategically placing them where demands are greatest. His activity is solidly placed at the start of the innovation pipeline.

In the Faculty of Engineering, there is emphasis on the product creation activities associated with the middle of the innovation pipeline. On May 25, for example, the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing will hold its Conference and Exhibition to showcase equipment designed and built by students to make improve the work efficiency of farmers and manufacturers. Students have been constructing equipment to process a wide range of crops like cassava, sweet potato, dasheen, breadfruit, pigeon peas, coconuts and a basket of others, all of which can make agriculture more attractive as a sector for development. The cocoa pod splitter may just be a first in the world and its commercial potential is enormous, given the international demand for chocolate.

Similarly, at the recent Research Symposium held by the Faculty of Science and Technology, some of the presentations have enormous implications for world health. The late Professor Dave Chadee, in whose memory the Symposium was dedicated, would be proud. The winning presentation, delivered by Antonio Ramkissoon, a PhD student in Microbiology in the Department of Life Sciences, is a wonderful example of the value of academic research. Without giving away details prematurely, it is likely that when it has made its way through the pipeline to commercial application, it will significantly impact on the ongoing battle against many mosquito-borne diseases.

We at The UWI are ready and able to start the process of building and engaging a sustainable wealth generation engine. However, we recognize the fact that success can only come when industry, academic institutions and governments join us in forging a powerful partnership that will strengthen the innovation capacity of regional economies for economic growth. We look forward to growing this partnership in the immediate future.


Campus Principal: Professor Brian Copeland
Director of Marketing and Communications: Dr. Dawn-Marie De Four-Gill
Editor : Vaneisa Baksh

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The UWI Marketing and Communications Office
Tel: (868) 662-2002 exts. 82013, 83997