Caribbean Single Market and Economy – Who Says UWI isn’t Doing Enough?

The University of the West Indies (UWI) is often seen as a long-standing partner to the Caribbean governments in promoting the integration and development of our people and forming strategic alliances.

CARICOM member states are now considering establishing a single market economy. This means the general lifting of all legal and administrative trade restrictions. Increased competition between these states is therefore inevitable. The ability of Member States to withstand the effects of trade liberalization will depend, inter alia, on the capacity of their human resources and their educational institutions. The role UWI plays in enabling the region’s people and countries to make the transition is therefore under scrutiny. Many, including graduates of the university, think: “The UWI just doesn’t do enough!”

UWI’s role has evolved based on changes in its curriculum, the level of intellectual debate on the subject among people in the region, and the extent to which it has facilitated product development by increasing the region’s access to specialized training and technology transfer has improved.

A major criticism leveled against the university is that it has failed to apply innovative strategies and radical curriculum design to achieve the transformation needed to strategically address the challenges facing the region.

When asked if the university has improved the intellectual abilities of people in the region, the answer is a resounding yes. But when asked whether his efforts are on par with those of prestigious universities around the world, the answer is not equally convincing.

Caribbean entrepreneurs argue that UWI has failed to instill in its graduates the dramatic shifts in attitude and perspectives needed to help the corporate sector meet the challenges of the CSME. Amid a climate of high graduate unemployment, it is felt that UWI does not equip its graduates to seek self-employment opportunities. Instead, UWI produces bookworms without an entrepreneurial vision!

The question was also asked whether the university has more opportunities for regional cooperation in human, economic and social development. Undoubtedly, it has played a crucial and significant role in integrating the people and countries of the region. In fact, it can be argued that UWI played a crucial role in driving the spirit of cooperation and integration that made the Caribbean Single Market a reality. Compared to the ‘much vaunted’ CARICOM Federation, the continued achievements of the University of the West Indies invalidate arguments that the region cannot unite.

But is UWI doing enough to help graduates navigate the changes in the international trading environment and the impact it is having on small, open economies like ours? There is only so much that regional institutions like the UWI can do. The corporate sector, equipped with a better educated workforce, must now do the rest.

One thing is for sure. UWI has nurtured a spirit of regional collaboration and Caribbean identity over the years. Without a doubt, as a regional institution, the university has served as a beacon to bring together the people and countries of the region. To suggest otherwise is to be overly critical and underscore the efforts of governments, university officials and alumni who have contributed to this process. But amid these efforts, university officials admit that the number of OECS (Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States) registrants continues to decline. More and more students in the region are looking for programs at foreign universities, albeit self-funded and more expensive. Why is that? The answer may lie in the fact that the university itself has failed to adapt to the changing climate.

The current economic climate requires the higher education institutions in the region to quickly provide a broad base of qualified specialists. This is believed to set in motion the potential for the region to compete with the mega trading blocs that have sprung up of late. This requires our educational institutions to provide broader and affordable access to education for people in the region. Developed countries have resorted to online distance learning programs to achieve this goal. Admittedly, one of the compelling flaws of the UWI is that while major universities around the world have successfully established reputable online learning programs, “the UWI is still trying to catch up”. The lack of an effective online learning program that provides widespread and affordable access to higher education says it all. In the context of our geography, this is an indication of the university’s inability to adequately position itself to meet the needs of the people and countries of the region.

Who says UWI’s strategies and timing don’t align with the proven needs of its employees? The real question is what role UWI should play in preparing the region for CSME. Is there a defined role or specific aspect for which she should take responsibility? The question of whether UWI is doing enough, or what it should be doing, will remain a topic of debate. It is undisputed that UWI can and should do more to prepare the region for the challenges of the CSME.

Thanks to Eldonna Lendor | #Caribbean #Single #Market #Economy #UWI #isnt

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