Sir Hilary Beckles was the man of the moment last evening at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, as both he and Prime Minister Freundel Stuart seemed to put their recent public squabbles behind them.
The two men, who have traded personal jabs over the Barbados Government’s policy on tertiary education — in particular a decision to have students pay their own tuition fees — warmly embraced during an elaborate installation ceremony yesterday at which the eighth Vice Chancellor of the UWI was hailed as the right man for the job.
“You come to this office with the goodwill of millions within and without the Caribbean. They and I have confidence that in you, we have imagination and intelligence, the courage and competence, the integrity and industry, and that fierce commitment to excellence that makes for the brightest,” said UWI Chancellor Sir George Alleyne, before a large audience, which included three Caribbean prime ministers at the Usain Bolt Sports Complex.
The principal of the UWI Mona Campus, Professor Archibald McDonald also described the St Andrew-born academic as the “quintessential Caribbean man”.
“Under your leadership the University of the West Indies will not stand still, our Caribbean nation will not stand still. I have no doubt that you will seize the opportunity to make things better,” he said.
Caribbean Community chairman Prime Minister Perry Christie, who was also joined by St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Dr Ralph Gonsalves, said, “I am confident that the mantle of leadership of UWI is being passed on to the right person”.
When his turn came to address the gathering, Sir Hilary, who is the former principal of Cave Hill, said his plan was to shift the focus of the three-campus university from straight academic studies to forging stronger links with the private sector.
“We have a great deal of work to do,” he said after the cape of Vice-Chancellor was placed on his shoulders.
“As a university we have our work cut out for us. Our top priority has to be working intimately with our wealth creators in order to drive our region out of recession.
“The building of our economic competitiveness and the achievement of economic growth must be the top priority for all of us,” he said.
Noting that UWI was built to serve people of the region, Sir Hilary said, “If the bus of our economy is in the ditch, then all of us must roll up our sleeves and push and pull until that bus is back on the highway.
“The building of strong industry-academic links as a normal architecture must be addressed. All those countries that have achieved strong sustainable economic growth with social progress have done so on the platform of industry-academic networks in which innovation and value creation were prioritized.
“The university has done a great deal in the past but we must do even more,” he said, warning, “this recession is a threat to all we have achieved”.