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The UWI Regional Headquarters Jamaica. 10 November 2016The University of the West Indies (The UWI) recently hosted tertiary education partners and international donors for consultations on restructuring the Caribbean higher education system to drive economic growth in the region. More than 50 representatives attended the two-day event which took place from November 3-4, 2016 at The UWI, St Augustine’s University Inn and Conference Centre.

The consultations stem from a CARICOM meeting in July 2015, where The UWI Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, highlighted the importance of tertiary education to national and regional development.

Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies addressing the participants
Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (Professor Sir Hilary Beckles) addressing the participants

Working with CARICOM, Vice-Chancellor Beckles initiated the two days of meetings to brainstorm how partners and donors can support The UWI and other institutions to better align with industry. These discussions represent a key step in The UWI’s strategic agenda, with the University declaring that economic growth in the region is its top priority. The UWI called upon international donors to invest in research in order to drive the kind of innovation necessary to create competitive industries. A University Office of Academic-Industry Partnership has also been established in order to drive this process under the theme “UWI for Economic Growth”.

Day one of the consultations was attended by representatives of tertiary education institutions from CARICOM member states and centred on developing partnerships and shared understanding. On day two, a number of international development partners joined in the discussion.  Vice-Chancellor Beckles provided an overview of the imperatives for strengthening the tertiary education sector to enable it to act as a tool for development.  Other presentations discussed the Africa Centres for Excellence, supported by the World Bank, that might provide a template to meet the need for building capacity in research in CARICOM; the creation of a research management capacity to enable the reinvigorated thrust in research; the support that the tertiary education sector can provide to Governments throughout the project cycle and the creation of a mechanism that would facilitate this activity.

Defining the purpose for the two-day gathering as a “call to arms”, Vice-Chancellor Beckles said, “It is time to take responsibility, to maximise the higher education sector’s involvement in development. Referencing the UNDP Caribbean Human Development Report 2016, he underscored that the vulnerabilities were increasing in the Caribbean, and that the region faced an erosion of human development gains over the last few years. In appealing to sector colleagues, he said, “Let’s work together to redefine the level of engagement; to work on a new framework, to network our higher education sector.” Noting the alarming statistic of the Caribbean having the lowest higher education participation rate in the hemisphere, he called for collaboration toward widened access to higher education, through a system built with a diversity of institutions and educational products.

The major outcomes of the two days included:

  • Identification of opportunities for development programmes/projects where regional approaches are likely to be more effective and efficient
  • The need for a survey of tertiary level institutions to determine strengths, weaknesses and areas of particular interest, and to identify the institutions that have capacity to lead programmes/projects
  • Identification of capacity building required to improve implementation/aid effectiveness

Discussions ended in agreement to formalise a Working Group comprising representatives of tertiary education institutions, ACTI and the CARICOM Secretariat and prepare an action plan for presentation to CARICOM’s Inter-Sessional Heads of Government Meeting in February 2017. Charting the way forward, proposals would be aligned with the CARICOM HRD2030 Strategy and its Strategic Plan to ensure a comprehensive approach to growth and development in CARICOM.

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