Within the next two years the University of the West Indies (UWI) will have a presence on every continent, top officials of the learning institution are promising.
Vice Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles said in light of a recent satisfactory ranking on one of the world’s prestigious university lists, UWI would redouble its efforts to become a more globally recognized institution and to attract more international students.
Sir Hilary said the plan was in keeping with the university’s Triple A Strategy 2017-2022.
Earlier this year, UWI Chancellor Robert Bermudez had also expressed concern that “the traditional model of the state paying the vast majority of the economic cost [for students] is unsustainable due to the fiscal challenges in the region.
“We spend too much time lobbying the governments to pay their bills and not enough time on reducing the operating cost of the university,” Bermudez had told the university, which has its main campuses in Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago and was owed close to $400 million up to last year, almost half of this by the Barbados Government.
Addressing a media conference which was streamed live from the Mona campus in Jamaica on Tuesday, Sir Hilary made no mention of the indebtedness to the UWI, but said it was high time it was “pushed away from its 20th century structures and infrastructures” and made into a “very dynamic and aggressive 21st century university”.
“We are aggressively ramping up the process of evolving into a more aggressive 20th century university. Therefore we are not speaking of business as normal, we are speaking about transformation. We are speaking about the reinvention of the UWI,” Sir Hilary said.
“There is nothing accidental about what we do,” he added, “one of the objectives we have pursued in recent years is the aggressive globalization of this university . . . . This is why we have said that UWI is going to operate on every continent on this planet; that UWI will have a physical presence in all of these places and this is what we are pursuing”.
Pointing to the university’s overall ranking of 37th out of 129 universities in Latin America and the Caribbean in the Times Higher Education (THE) University Rankings, Sir Hilary said it was UWI’s intention to improve on that ranking within the next two years.
UWI’s Pro Vice Chancellor for Global Affairs Dr Richard Bernal acknowledged that UWI had significant competition from other universities around the world, adding that it was therefore critical that it strategically expands its reach.
Bernal noted that UWI currently has international student enrolment of between two to three per cent, which he said should be increased to ten per cent.
“[However] this is not at the expense of taking in Caribbean students,” he said. “We have the room, particularly in Barbados, to increase our foreign students. This is good for us. It provides exposure, it is a revenue aspect,” he added.
Bernal also suggested that the university’s expansion plan was well advanced, given a number of partnerships with other universities and governments.
“We are already in China . . . It provides software engineering. It is a double degree – two years in the Caribbean and two years in China, including learning Mandarin and a year’s working experience,” Bernal explained.
“We want to also intervene in the policy space, and so we have aligned State University of New York. We thought this would be an ideal partnership since we have 50,000 students and they have 500,000 students.
This gives us access to the largest and most diverse student body in the United States,” he said.
The academic said UWI had just completed its contractual obligations in Kenya and was “working on Canada and Europe”.
“I would say in the next year or two we will be deployed on all continents. We are very active with UNAM (National Autonomous University) of Mexico,” Bernal added.
He pointed out that the UWI had signed memoranda of understanding and entered partnerships with over 330 universities, which he said reflected the scope of the university’s ambition.
“So with all that, why are we interested in global rankings? Global rankings are important because they affect the following things:
“One, student enrolment . . . it affects the recruitment and retention of faculty, it affects the ability to develop local public/private partnership and international partnerships. It affects the financial support even from stakeholder governments and it certainly affects how you compete in the global quest for research funding,” he said.
Bernal said it was in that regard that the university decided two years ago to make it on the Times Higher Education (THE) University Rankings.
“The competition is intense among the 23,000 institutions of higher learning but there is room for all of us. The market for higher education at the global level is now worth US$70 billion. In our situation here where our governments have stood by us for many years, many of them are experiencing difficult fiscal situation. The onus is on us to become more efficient, more creative and to earn more of our income. And hence the global market is a natural thing,” he said.