December 2018

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The granting of a new Royal Charter converting us from a University College, teaching for degrees, marks the completion of our period of apprenticeship. It recognizes that excellent foundations have been laid over the past fourteen years. The College has achieved a reputation for high academic standards, and can now go forward in confidence on its own.

We must forever be grateful to the University of London for the part it has played in helping to make this reputation. The University of London did more than just set examination papers and mark the results. It helped us to recruit staff and every year sent some of its own Professors to visit us. It also advised over a wider range of problems. The apprentice system is valuable, and we profited greatly by it.

The University of London accommodated us by modifying its syllabuses to suit local requirements. This is more successful in some departments than in others. For example, Physics is the same wherever you study it, so are the Classics, Mathematics or French. Other subjects are difficult to adapt, whether because the subject matter is different or because the purpose of the training is different. Britain is an industrial, urbanized, racially homogenous community, with small closely knit families while the West Indies is agricultural, rural and racially mixed, with a unique family system. No amount of modification could produce a social science syllabus which fitted both Britain and the West Indies. Or if you take Medicine, the London medical degree includes neither Public Health nor Psychiatry, since in Britain both these fields are left to specialists. But in the West Indies we train a doctor who goes out into the country for his first job, and may find himself doing both Public Health work and Psychiatry, so we need these subjects in our medical training. Having the right to devise our own syllabuses will make only marginal difference to some subjects such as Engineering, or Chemistry, but it will be quite significant in the biological and the social sciences.

It will also make quite a difference in the Final Honours year. Honours students are supposed to come up to the frontier of knowledge in some part of their subject; to be familiar with the latest researches, and to see how the subject is advanced. Here the research which the teachers are doing spills over into their teaching. Since different teachers are doing different researches, you cannot regulate this be having a standard syllabus. Each Final Honours teacher must decide what he is going to teach and frame his examinations accordingly. To the students this is the most exciting part of their work, because here they see their subject actually being made. Our new freedom will therefore virtually add a new dimension to the teaching of our Final Honours classes.

The quality of the University will also be upgraded in another way, namely, that we shall now be able to have a large body of postgraduate students. As an external College of London, the University College could register a student for a Master’s or a Doctor’s degree only if he already had a Bachelor’s degree of the University of London. If a graduate of Oxford or Manchester or Harvard presented himself, we couldn’t take him. Now, most universities build up their graduate schools by taking students from other universities. You send your own students to another university for postgraduate work, and take in postgraduate students from elsewhere. Today there are more than 4,000 West Indians taking Bachelor’s degrees in universities overseas. The sensible place for them to do their postgraduate work is here, where researches of special West Indian relevance are going on. We plan to have two to three hundred graduate students immediately – that is out next big step forward. It will make a big difference to us academically, since the academic core of a good university is its postgraduate teaching and research. And it will also make a big difference to the general life of our students to have a large body of mature postgraduates around. This is much the most important effect of getting a new charter, and much the most important reason we needed to get a new charter as soon as possible.

From what I have said you may correctly surmise that the standards of the College are more likely to rise than to fall, as a consequence of our independence. Our intention is to hold them constant, at the level at which they have now been stabilised by the University of London. We have to keep at this level for several reasons. Firstly we want to attract the best students born in the West Indies, and they won’t come unless we offer a first class education. Secondly, we want our best students to go on to other universities for postgraduate training, and other universities will not take them unless we keep up our standards. Thirdly, we have an obligation to the West Indies to do first class research into West Indian problems of all kinds, social, medical, engineering, linguistic, agricultural, and so on. Research and teaching are intimately linked both ways. You don’t get first class teaching staff unless you are doing first class research, and if you are doing first class research the standards of teaching will be high. Given the amount of money that is pouring into this University from research foundations for research of all kinds, there is much more danger that our standards, may be too high than they may be too low.

The way universities maintain common standards is too have external examiners from other universities. Examination papers are drafted by the teaching staff, and are then sent to teachers in other universities for approval. The examination scripts are marked in the university, and then are sent to the external examiners to be marked again, and the external examiners have the last word. This is how we have worked with London. Our new charter provides that we must continue to have external examiners, and the Senate has already decided that we will not reduce the number of external examiners. The cost of all these examiners is very high, but we think it is money well spent.

Our new Charter does not merely recognize that excellent foundations have been laid; it also challenges us to erect an excellent structure on these foundations. We eagerly accept this challenge.

This was taken from the university publication, “Pelican Annual” of 1962.

The life and work of Sir W. Arthur Lewis was celebrated by The UWI on January 23, 2018. Sir Arthur Lewis Day was celebrated with a symposium and a lecture by the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Stuart Corbridge, on “Sir W. Arthur Lewis and the Possibility of Development.”

Sir William Arthur Lewis (1915–1991), was known for his work as an economist and as a Nobel Prize winner (1979). He also served as the Principal of the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) and was the first Vice-Chancellor of The UWI (1959–1963).