In as soon as three months, at the start of the new academic year, the University of the West Indies (UWI) is to open its fourth campus – its first in 55 years – in Antigua at Five Islands village, 7.5 km (4.7 miles) west of the capital, St John’s, UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles announced today.
The Five Islands Campus, also the first full UWI campus in an Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), is to follow the Cave Hill campus, which opened in 1963. St Augustine, Trinidad, formerly the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture was established in 1960, a dozen years ago the then University College of the West Indies (UCWI), opened at Mona, Jamaica in 1948.
The announcement of the Antiguan campus is the climax of a strong push by Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne who made a request to the UWI to set up a campus at Five Islands, on the site of a Chinese-built secondary school that was never opened and later handed over to the Antigua State College.
Built under the Baldwin Spencer administration to house 750 students shortly before losing the 2014 election to Browne’s Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP, the 6,450 square-metre complex was to consist of classrooms, a gymnasium, computer and science laboratories, and a music room among other facilities.
The Chinese state construction company agreed to expand the facility and retrofit the buildings to house a university.
In 2017, the Antigua State College, the national public community college, moved its schools of business, nursing and education to Five Islands.
In a live-streamed media conference, Sir Hilary announced: “I am honoured to report that Chancellor Robert Bermudez and the Council of the UWI have formally approved the establishment of a Campus of the UWI in Antigua and Barbuda, within the wider context of the country’s membership of the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
“Physically located in the community known as Five Islands, this newest campus of the West Indies will be officially known as the Five Islands Campus.”
The vice-chancellor told journalists that the campus is to be housed in the Antigua State College, which meant there was no need to built a new facility.
Sir Hilary said the State College already had a full programme and full infrastructure in place, with only some administrative restructuring to be completed.
Declaring that a campus in the OECS was necessary, as Eastern Caribbean students had not been allowed full access to the UWI in the past, Sir Hilary said: “In recent decades, several studies have shown that the UWI has underperformed within the OECS sub-region. The nations that constitute this integrated community are founders and original charter members of the university. However, they have not had the benefit of full access to the university’s brand that is theirs, within national and sub-regional development strategies.”
He also explained that students from the OECS were underperforming at an alarming rate.
The UWI vice-chancellor said: “While in recent years the OECS has registered among the highest rates of economic growth in the region, the UWI has remained dissatisfied with the level of its contribution to the development of the higher education sector and professional training in that community.
“The OECS registers the lowest rates of youth tertiary education enrollment in the entire Caribbean and indeed in the hemisphere.”
“This unacceptable circumstance is reflected in some of the highest youth unemployment rates in the Caribbean. Together they constitute a real threat to sustained development in the sub-region.”
Sir Hilary said the Five Islands Campus provided UWI with an opportunity for “corrective action”.
He said the majority of the 800 students slated to begin their studies in September were already registered in levels 1 and levels 2 of UWI programmes.
Sir Hilary said the establishment of the campus meant those students would no longer have to leave Antigua and Barbuda to complete levels 3, as it would now be offered.
The Vice-Chancellor said the Five Islands Campus would begin by offering several courses which he believed were urgently needed in Antigua and Barbuda.
Sir Hilary also announced plans to change the university’s model from the UWI, to a UWI system.
This new system, he said, would be made up of the four landed campuses, the Open Campus, the six international centres which UWI had around the world, colleges which would become a part of the UWI, as well as UWI global online, which would see all of its programmes being offered online.