The University of the West Indies (UWI) has often been viewed as a long-standing partner to Caribbean Governments in fostering integration and development of our people, and forming strategic alliances.
CARICOM member states are now considering the establishment of a single market economy. This will mean the general removal of all legal and administrative restrictions to trade. Increased competition among these states is therefore inevitable. The ability of member states to survive the effects of trade liberalisation will among other things depend on the capacity of its human resources and its learning institutions. The role that UWI is playing in enabling the people and countries of the region to make the transition will therefore come under great scrutiny. Many, including graduates of the University, believe that "UWI simply isn't doing enough!"
UWI's role has been assessed based on changes in its curriculum, the level of intellectual discussion stimulated on the topic among people of the region and the extent to which it has facilitated product development by enhancing the regions access to specialised training and technology transfer.
A major criticism levelled against the University is that it has failed to employ innovative strategies and radical curriculum engineering in achieving the transformation required to strategically address the challenges facing the region.
To the question of whether the University has enhanced the intellectual capacity of the people of the region, the answer is an emphatic yes. But when asked whether its efforts have equalled those of reputable universities around the world, the response is not equally convincing.
Caribbean entrepreneurs argue that UWI has not instilled in its graduates, the dramatic changes in attitude and perspectives required to assist the business sector in confronting the challenges of the CSME. Amidst a climate of high unemployment among graduates, the view is that UWI is not equipping its graduates to seek opportunities for self-employment. Instead, UWI is churning out bookworms that lack entrepreneurial vision!
The question has also been asked about whether the University has increased opportunities for regional cooperation in human, economic and social development. No doubt, it has played a critical and significant role in integrating the people and countries of the region. In fact, it can be argued that UWI has played a pivotal role in advancing the spirit of cooperation and integration that has made the Caribbean single market a reality. In comparison to the "much-lauded" CARICOM Federation, the continuing achievements of the University of the West Indies dispel the arguments that the region cannot unite.
But is UWI doing enough to assist graduates to confront the changes in the international trading environment and the implications for small, open economies like ours? There is only so much that institutions of the region, such as UWI can do. The business sector armed with a more educated workforce must now do the rest.
One thing is certain. UWI has over the years engendered a spirit of regional cooperation and Caribbean identity. Without a doubt, the University, as a regional institution, has served as a beacon in bringing the people and countries of the region together. To suggest otherwise is to be overly critical and to underscore the efforts of the Governments, University Officials and Graduates who have contributed to this process. But amidst these efforts, University Officials admit that the numbers of OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) registrants continue to decline. More and more students of the region are looking towards programmes at foreign universities, albeit self funded and more expensive. Why is that? The answer may lie in the fact that the university has itself failed to adapt to the changing climate.
The present economic climate requires the region's tertiary learning institutions to swiftly provide a broad base of skilled professionals. This, it is believed, will set in motion the potential for the region to compete with the mega trade blocs that have emerged, in recent time. This requires that our learning institutions facilitate more wide spread and affordable access to education for the people of the region. The Developed Countries have resorted to online distant learning programmes to achieve this objective. Admittedly, one of the compelling shortcomings of UWI is that while major universities around the world have successfully established reputable online learning programmes, "UWI is still trying to play catch up." The absence of an effective online learning programme that facilitates widespread and cost effective access to tertiary education, says it all. In the context of our geography, it is indicative of the University's inability to adequately position itself to meet the needs of the people and countries of the region.
Who is to say that UWI's strategies and timing are not in keeping with the demonstrated needs of its people? The real question is what role should UWI play in preparing the region for CSME. Is there a defined role or a specific aspect for which it should assume responsibility? The issue of whether UWI is doing enough or what it should be doing will remain a topic for debate. What is beyond dispute is that UWI can and should be doing more to prepare the region for the challenges of the CSME.
Eldonna Lendor is a Business Strategist, Trade Consultant and Corporate Attorney. Her combination of Law and Business underscore her uniqueness as a Small Business Consultant within the current trade environment. She has assisted many small businesses in decline to address weaknesses in their operations, improve their products, become export ready and transform their losses into profit. She takes a special interest in helping small businesses and would-be entrepreneurs to better understand issues relating to global trade and doing better business. She is the CEO of http://www.patantconsult.com and publisher of eXplosion!, an ezine which provides advice to small business entrepreneurs. She is the co-founder of http://www.talkcsme.blogspot.com, a blog, which discusses issues affecting persons and businesses in the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).