The UWI Regional Headquarters, Jamaica. Monday 19 October 2020—The crisis being faced by the higher education sector in the Caribbean brought regional Prime Ministers, Ministers, senior policy makers, representatives from the United Nations, international donor agencies and development banks together virtually on Wednesday, October 14, 2020. This pivotal meeting themed, “Investing in higher education to build more diversified and resilient post-COVID economies”, which drew over 100 participants was convened jointly with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) to put a spotlight on the urgent need for investment in the region’s higher education sector.
Among the outcomes at the high level meeting was a call from Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (The UWI) for a multi-donor trust fund to invest 600 million US dollars over three years for the Caribbean’s human capital development and the establishment of a regional working group to work through the modalities for setting up this critical fund. Qualifying the proposal, he declared that the governments have been doing the best they can and thanked them for their steadfast support to The UWI for over seventy years, but with the economic contraction precipitated by the pandemic, the Caribbean’s higher education system is at risk of systemic decline unless there is urgent investment in the sector.
Wednesday’s virtual Forum was opened by Dr Stacy Richards-Kennedy, Director of the Office of Global Partnerships and Sustainable Futures at The UWI who outlined that the Caribbean Development Roundtable (CDR) and the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee (CDCC) convened by ECLAC last month helped to set both the tone and trajectory for this development partner forum. She noted that the Caribbean is facing an “unimaginable conflation of crippling factors and forces” and that there is an urgent need for partnership and collaboration that will provide “tangible opportunities to uplift the millions of young people who are deserving of a higher education but may fall through the cracks opened up by the pandemic, if we fail to act decisively.” Dr Richards-Kennedy commended ECLAC for being swift in its response to support a focused discussion on higher education.
In his opening remarks, the Forum’s Chairperson, Premier and Minister of Finance of the British Virgin Islands, the Honourable Andrew Fahie, who also serves as a Vice Chair of the ECLAC Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee, acknowledged that critics may view the forum as another talk shop, but urged participants that it was an opportunity for things to be different. “I believe we have no choice but to work more closely as partners in the Caribbean to survive this crisis and go on to thrive in multiple economic sectors. I am very encouraged by the partnership already in action today by ECLAC and The UWI…they have brought us to this virtual table during this unprecedented moment in history. Let their partnership be an example to us as we go forward.”
The Honourable Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, in her feature address, thanked The UWI and ECLAC for bringing this critical discourse to fruition. She admitted it is not a normal discourse in the middle of a pandemic setting, saying “I don’t think that most persons across the world are looking at the stabilisation of investment in tertiary education.” She added, “Investment ought to be the prism in which we see our expenditure in education…and we must craft a new vision for education in general, inclusive of higher education.” She also emphasized that she was looking forward to seeing the discussions translated into policies that can influence decisions not just regionally, but through UN ECLAC internationally.
Following presentations by ECLAC, the IDB and World Bank, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, who is also President of Universities Caribbean, Chairman of the Caribbean Examinations Council and Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, underscored the importance for the ideas emanating from the discussion to migrate from academic discourse into “practical solutions of an emergency nature required right now to save the region.” Sir Hilary asserted that many individual universities have done well through strategic initiatives, self-help and assistance from development partners but unfortunately, in spite of their self-help culture and responsibility, external shocks have given a sharp blow to Caribbean economies and governments do not have the resources. He shared concern that the university sector is at risk of collapse given the dire current circumstances and called upon multilateral development partners, donor agencies and developed countries to help strengthen the resilience of the Caribbean through investment in human capital development with a special carve out for the higher education and research sector.
Responding to the Vice-Chancellor’s proposal, Chief of the ECLAC subregional headquarters for the Caribbean, Diane Quarless affirmed the importance of ensuring that the positive outcome of this dialogue among development partners results ultimately in durable support for tertiary education in the region through strategic action and resource mobilization. In this ECLAC resolved to remain engaged to explore with all partners a productive way forward.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) subregional headquarters for the Caribbean functions as a subregional think tank and facilitates increased contact and cooperation among its membership. The subregional headquarters seeks to promote and strengthen development within the Caribbean, and enhance the subregion’s cooperation with Latin American countries. This is done by improving capacities of policy makers from countries in the subregion to formulate, implement and monitor measures to overcome development challenges and promote economic diversification and social transformation; enhancing capacity and technical expertise to follow up on the major international agreements in the economic, social and environmental fields, including follow up to the Mauritius Strategy for implementation of the SIDS Programme of Action; and enhancing capacity of Caribbean governments and institutions to promote intra- and inter-regional cooperation and integration. In the light of this overall objective, normative as well as technical cooperation activities, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its related Sustainable Development Goals, the SAMOA Pathway and other global development initiatives are being implemented by the subregional headquarters, in collaboration with United Nations funds, programmes and specialized agencies, subregional organizations and other development partners.
Within this framework, ECLAC conducts research; provides technical advice to governments, upon request; organizes intergovernmental and expert group meetings; helps to formulate and articulate a regional perspective within global forums; and introduces global concerns at the regional and subregional levels. Operational activities extend to economic and development planning, demography, economic surveys, assessment of the socioeconomic impacts of natural disasters, data collection and analysis, training, and assistance with the management of national economies. Additional details on our work can be found in the ECLAC 70th anniversary video.
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 www.uwi.edu.
(Please note that the proper name of the university is The University of the West Indies, inclusive of the “The”, hence The UWI.)
For further information, please contact Denise Balgobin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone: (868) 224-8075.