News Releases

UWI Vice-Chancellor: US$600 million fund needed for universities to drive economic diversification

For Release Upon Receipt - October 17, 2020


The UWI Regional Headquarters, Jamaica. Friday, October 16, 2020—As universities globally grapple with funding challenges precipitated by sharp falls in government funding and a decline in enrolment, The University of the West Indies (The UWI) convened a landmark meeting on Wednesday, October 14, 2020.  This first-ever virtual Development Partner Forum focused on “Investing in higher education to build more diversified and resilient post-COVID economies” and was organized jointly with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC).  As part of the emergency investment in the Caribbean region is a proposal by the Vice-Chancellor of The UWI, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, to establish a US$600 million multi-donor trust fund to prevent systemic decline in the region’s higher education and research sector.

Vice-Chancellor Beckles issued his call to action during his presentation on the topic “Fixing the Broken Links: Crisis in higher education, research, international competitiveness and inclusive economic development”.  He emphasized that the Caribbean region has been woefully underfunded for education and development projects since independence, in spite of centuries of wealth extraction by developed countries. As a result, the contemporary higher education sector is unfit for purpose with systemic challenges that need to be addressed at all education levels. In spite of over seven decades of government support for education and The UWI’s dedicated efforts, which have led to the regional university’s ranking among the top 4% of universities globally by Times Higher Education, the current constraints of the highly-indebted Caribbean countries and the projected economic contraction of close to 8% in 2020, now pose an existential threat to the higher education sector in the Caribbean, unless a fund to support human capital development is urgently established.

Vice-Chancellor Beckles, who is also the President of Universities Caribbean, a consortium of universities located in the English, Spanish, French and Dutch-speaking Caribbean, did not mince words as he addressed the virtual audience of over 100 participants, including Prime Ministers, Ministers of Education, Ministers of Finance, other government officials, diplomatic missions and representatives from United Nations agencies and development banks. He stressed the severity of these challenges, which come at a time when countries need to draw on research and innovation to build knowledge economies and propel the region’s economic diversification agenda.  Sir Hilary explained that the Caribbean’s vulnerability to climate change, chronic diseases and exogenous shocks is being exacerbated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and that the resulting funding crisis for higher education and research is a burning issue that must be red flagged as part of the region’s emergency response to the pandemic.

He thanked the governments for trying their very best to support the regional university in spite of the severe impact on the region’s GDP and also expressed his gratitude to ECLAC for facilitating this important conversation.  Vice-Chancellor Beckles called upon the private sector to invest in research, development and innovation projects that could help boost economic diversification and international competitiveness.  He also urged development partners to help mobilize resources for the multi-donor trust fund for human capital development in the Caribbean, challenging them to an initial capitalization level of US$600 million.  This fund will make it possible to undertake urgent regional projects that would provide widespread access to higher education, advance path-breaking research and innovation, promote much-needed digital transformation, develop technical and vocational skills to support a range of industries and undertake education reform and policy harmonization from early childhood through to university. 


About The UWI

For over 70 years The University of the West Indies (The UWI) has provided service and leadership to the Caribbean region and wider world. The UWI has evolved from a university college of London in Jamaica with 33 medical students in 1948 to an internationally respected, regional university with near 50,000 students and five campuses: Mona in Jamaica, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago, Cave Hill in Barbados, Five Islands in Antigua and Barbuda and an Open Campus. As part of its robust globalization agenda, The UWI has established partnering centres with universities in North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe including the State University of New York (SUNY)-UWI Center for Leadership and Sustainable Development; the Canada-Caribbean Institute with Brock University; the Strategic Alliance for Hemispheric Development with Universidad de los Andes (UNIANDES); The UWI-China Institute of Information Technology, the University of Lagos (UNILAG)-UWI Institute of African and Diaspora Studies; the Institute for Global African Affairs with the University of Johannesburg (UJ); The UWI-University of Havana Centre for Sustainable Development; The UWI-Coventry Institute for Industry-Academic Partnership with the University of Coventry and the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research with the University of Glasgow.

The UWI offers over 800 certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Food & Agriculture, Engineering, Humanities & Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Science & Technology, Social Sciences and Sport. 

As the region’s premier research academy, The UWI’s foremost objective is driving the growth and development of the regional economy. The world’s most reputable ranking agency, Times Higher Education, has ranked The UWI among the top 600 universities in the world for 2019 and 2020, and the 40 best universities in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2018 and 2019, then top 20 in 2020. The UWI has been the only Caribbean-based university to make the prestigious lists.  For more, visit

 (Please note that the proper name of the university is The University of the West Indies, inclusive of the “The”, hence The UWI.)