By Sir Hilary Beckles
KINGSTON, Jamaica – I am honoured to report that the chancellor, Robert Bermudez, and the council of The University of the West Indies (UWI) have formally approved the establishment of a campus of The University of the West Indies in Antigua and Barbuda, within the broader context of the country’s membership of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Physically located in the community known as “Five Islands,” this newest campus of The UWI will be officially known as the “Five Islands Campus.”
In addition to serving the specific development needs of Antigua and Barbuda, it will provide a hub to enable greater participation in the development agendas of the OECS by The UWI.
Excellent public universities such as The UWI, are not designed nor funded to serve themselves. Their mandate is to serve all sections of the communities that support them. The UWI knows no other mandate. It is the region’s premier public university, ranked within the top five percent of the world’s finest.
In recent decades several studies have shown that The UWI has underperformed within the OECS sub-region. The nations that constitute this integrated community are founders and original chartered members of the university. However, they have not had the benefit of full access to the university’s brand, that is theirs, within national and sub-regional development strategies.
The government of Antigua and Barbuda placed the case before The University of the West Indies inviting its greater involvement in the development affairs of the country and sub-region. For the University, this request was simultaneously a practical, financial and ethical matter.
The OECS constitutes a significant part of the CARICOM family with a population of approximately 600,000 citizens, of which 102,000 reside in Antigua and Barbuda.
The UWI will now enter the OECS, headquartered with a landed campus in Antigua and Barbuda, after several decades of landed campus service and leadership in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados, and a major medical faculty presence in the Bahamas.
Ten years ago, this landed campus service was radically enhanced by the digital and physical presence of the Open Campus that has since been a lifeline for thousands of citizens in underserved communities across our archipelago.
The OECS, however, remained a part of our family that is in urgent need of the service, long considered a norm in countries that have had the financial resources to fund landed campuses.
While in recent years the OECS registered amongst the highest rates of economic growth in the region, The UWI has remained dissatisfied with the level of its contribution to the development of the higher education and professional training sectors.
The OECS registers the lowest rates of youth tertiary education enrolment in the Caribbean, and indeed the hemisphere. This unacceptable circumstance is reflected in some of the highest youth unemployment rates in the region.
Together, they constitute a real threat to sustained development in the sub-region. The UWI community long concerned about this reality within the OECS family welcomes this glorious moment that provides it with an opportunity for corrective action.
In 2017, the council of The UWI received a presentation from the government of Antigua and Barbuda calling for the establishment of a 21st century, fit for purpose campus, to promote national and sub-regional economic and social development, with a focus on the robust expansion of its social capital.
The council, in response, established a task force to conduct a feasibility study under the co-chairmanship of pro-vice-chancellors, professor Alan Cobley and professor Densil Williams.
The task force submitted its report in March 2019, and recommended the creation of a campus, explicitly designed to meet the needs of Antigua and Barbuda, and the OECS sub-region, based on projected financial feasibility.
Critically, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, provided the task force with financial data and evidence of its policy intent, illustrating its ability to meet the financial operations of the campus.
The report recommended to council, the establishment of the campus within defined guidelines outlined for program and facilities development. Council in accepting the recommendation of the task force has further instructed management to establish an implementation committee that will proceed immediately to craft and guide the creation of the Five Island Campus.
The Five Islands Campus will begin by admitting its first cohort of some 800 students in September 2019.
The majority of these 800 students are already registered in levels one and two of The UWI programs currently being delivered in Antigua under a franchise agreement at the Antigua State Community College, and other tertiary institutions. These students will be invited to transition over to the Five Islands Campus.
This is a historic moment in the development of the Caribbean community, in Antigua and Barbuda, the OECS, and for The UWI that is committed to serving the needs of its chartered members, and the entire region.
Like its sister campuses at Mona, St Augustine, Cave Hill and The Open Campus, the Five Islands Campus will begin modestly and will no doubt soar to magnificent heights in the years to come.
It’s a future to be crafted by us all. In this regard, we urge the region to embrace this youngest sibling of the UWI, in much the same way that you have developed and celebrated other campuses. This is why The UWI has become the number one ranked university in the Caribbean.
On behalf of The UWI, chancellor Bermudez and I, wish to commend prime minister Browne, his government, and the people of Antigua and Barbuda, for taking this bold, visionary step into the future they wish to craft for their citizens and indeed for the collective benefit of Caribbean people.
There is no doubt that the region’s development is being held back, not by a shortage of capital, but by inadequate critical skills, and a shortage of trained professionals. This campus is intended to contribute to solving this development problem in Antigua and Barbuda and by extension, the sub-region and CARICOM in general.
Without vision, courage and commitment, there can be no progress for our people. We thank prime minister Browne, and his government, for having the confidence in their own UWI to satisfy their development aspirations. We shall do our very best to honour your trust.
The university wishes to thank the prime ministers and governments who host our three landed campuses in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados. We thank you, our principal stakeholders, for your scrutiny of the proposal and your endorsement.
The enormous investment of public resources your countries have made to empower and to expand The UWI over 71 years has made possible this historic moment.
Thank you, prime minister Holness, prime minister Rowley, prime minister Mottley, and your dedicated teams of ministers and civil servants.
Thank you for your persistent governance oversight of The UWI, and your willingness to enable it to continue on its journey to spread its service across the region, like a warm blanket, according to our first chancellor, Princess Alice of Athlone.
I also wish to thank prime minister Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, as chairman of the OECS, who provided regional leadership that enabled broad support for this initiative. In this regard, I also thank all prime ministers of the OECS who gave their full support.
Finally, I wish to commend pro-vice-chancellors Cobley and Williams, co-chairs of the task force, as well as all members, who worked hard and smart on their report, including student representatives whose voices rose up in support of more educational access for the youth of the region, who have inspired us all.
To the chancellor, campus principals, university registrar and university bursar, all pro vice-chancellors, directors, deans, heads of departments, presidents of the guilds of students, and all members of the university community, thank you for enabling The UWI to be the best it can be in serving the region while being a global exemplar in the provision of accessible and affordable quality higher education.
Our solidarity will now be required more than ever as we build a campus befitting the excellence of The UWI. With this action, the people of our region, the youth especially, will be better served.
Finally, I urge and implore all colleagues at sister campuses to work steadfastly and with devotion to develop our Five islands Campus. This 21st century is ours; let us, therefore, fully embrace the Five Islands Campus as a metaphor of the persistent deepening of Caribbean integration and the consolidation of Caribbean confidence in action.
Let us all, therefore, bless the Five Islands Campus and all it represents in the sovereign development of our people.