Faced with increasing poverty brought on by a lengthy economic recession and an outmoded production system, the Caribbean must focus on innovation to move on to the next phase of development, says University of the West Indies vice-chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.
In his inaugural address after being installed as vice-chancellor, Sir Hilary spoke of the university, sprawled across the region, becoming an intricate part of the needed push to move the Caribbean people and economy forward.
“The university has to be centrally a part of a search for a solution,” he said on Saturday at the Usain Bolt Sports Complex at the Cave Hill Campus.
“I am calling for a deeper commitment of our university to the purpose of wealth creation . . . to the uprooting of poverty in our region that must not be accepted as a norm.”
Sir Hilary said the Caribbean modes of production needed innovation.
“Without innovation we cannot compete effectively,” he contended, but noted that without applied research there could be no innovation.
The professor of history and former Cave Hill Campus principal, reflecting on the region’s product output responsible for development to this stage, said: “We have competed successfully in past decades at the level of prices and, for sure, we were competitive at the price level with many of our products . . . but we are not competing at the level of innovation, and herein lies the reason for our sluggish economic performance.”
He said that Caribbean economies suffered and continue to suffer ravaging of the global economic recession at a worse rate than other jurisdictions.
“We appear more sluggish in terms of our emergence. Our economy seems less competitive than in previous decades. A sense of despair has appeared on the horizon. Many of our gains we have won through hard work and painful struggle are being eroded.”
He spoke of dismay among sections of the young population and the argument that the Caribbean development agenda had stalled, run out of ideas and energy.
“It is also said in some academic circles, that we are now a classic example of a stressed culture that is more likely to implode than explode,” he added, and called for a revitalization of “the Caribbean revolution that has brought us thus far. Rekindle that spirit of struggle for self-reliance, for economic ownership of or resources and self-responsibility, that spirit that speaks to the lives of the ordinary man and woman in the street as a citizen with ideas and energy and enthusiasm to shape and to rebuild our countries. That spirit which says we are one people, one nation, owners of a civilization influenced by all, fertilized by all, connected to all, but inferior to none, and therefore equal to all”.
Sir Hilary said higher learning was the answer to the Caribbean’s economic squalor.
“There is certainly too much poverty in the Caribbean, and it is increasing across our region. We must not adjust to it; we must not accept it; we must see to it that every child can find a way forward to make a contribution through education.”
The vice-chancellor said it was a fundamental truth that universities were not built to serve themselves,
but their communities and nations.
“Our beloved UWI was built and sustained in order to serve the people of the Caribbean and beyond. It is a Caribbean university, we are a Caribbean people. We are one people, a unified civilization.”