By: Tony Best
The University of the West Indies, the English-speaking Caribbean’s premiere regional educational institution, is rolling out its new five year strategic plan and a key goal is the continued expansion of access for young people to its classrooms.
And the plan is being unfolded at a time when the UWI is facing serious financial times caused by the inability of some Caribbean governments to pay their full shares of the costs of to keep classrooms open and to maintain the high standards of tuition and research for which the school has become famous. In one case, Barbados owes the University $75 million (B’dos $ 150 million) in contributions.
Dr. Nigel Harris, the Vice Chancellor, said that it was essential that the school’s four campuses --- Mona in Jamaica, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago, Cave Hill in Barbados and the Open campus for the Eastern Caribbean – expand the availability of tertiary level education to more students across the region so that the various island-nations and territories don’t lag behind the rest of the world in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive economic and technological environment.
“We are just about to start our next five year strategic plan and within the context of that plan there will be considerable efforts to enrich the quality of the education, to broaden the reach and contributions to national growth that we make to our region,” was the way Prof. Harris put it to the New York Carib News. “The countries have committed themselves to considerable growth in access to tertiary level education” and the University is committed to that goal. “The value of that access is without debate. That’s a global commitment and there is an understanding within the Caribbean that if we don’t expand the access then we are not going to be competitive.
“There are three forces that are in equilibrium with each other,” added the Vice Chancellor. “There is an increase in access, maintaining quality and there is cost. You can’t adjust one without affecting the other. If you increase access and you do nothing else, your cost will have to increase.”
And that’s why the University’s financing system must change.
In the next five years, the Vice Chancellor and his team of administrators and academics expect a reduction in the school’s reliance on governments for funding to run the institution. Yes, he explained governments would retain their primary role but at a lower level while the private sector’s presence would be enhanced.
The strategic plan, he pointed out, called for UWI to assume a greater role in the training of private sector employees, beginning at the highest corporate levels and reaching down the lowest rung of the ladder.
“We are going to be utilizing a number of approaches, one of which is the link with the private sector,” explained Prof. Harris. “We want to design programs for continuing education and professional development. There is going to be a much greater basket of programs that are going to be self-financing that we anticipate people will pay for. We are looking at various modalities to enhance our own financial strength.”
Another key element would be the influx of fee-paying foreign students who would add another dimension to the Caribbean’s educational environment while opening up another income stream, much like the major universities in Europe, North America, India and various Latin American and Asian countries.
“We want to be able to attract much larger numbers of students from the outside world and academics as well,” said Dr. Harris. “We believe we are at the stage of bringing a larger number of students from outside of the Caribbean. One of the key elements of the plan is financing the University. We knew going forward that we must expand our non-governmental support. We don’t want to do it at the cost of current government support.”