UWI appeals for US$600-million investment to drive economic diversification


UWI appeals for US$600-million investment to drive economic diversification

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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Caribbean universities are in urgent need of at least US$600 million for a multi-donor trust fund to help drive economic diversification in the region, according to Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.

Sir Hilary, who is vice-chancellor of The University of the West Indies (The UWI), made the appeal last Wednesday during a virtual Development Partner Forum focused on “Investing in higher education to build more diversified and resilient post-COVID economies” organised by The UWI and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC).

Urging the private sector to make the investment, Sir Hilary said the fund would make it possible to undertake urgent regional projects that provide widespread access to higher education, advance path-breaking research and innovation, promote much-needed digital transformation, develop technical and vocational skills to support a range of industries and undertake education reform and policy harmonisation from early childhood through to university.

A news release from The UWI said Sir Hilary emphasised that the Caribbean has been woefully underfunded for education and development projects since Independence, in spite of centuries of wealth extraction by developed countries. As a result, the contemporary higher education sector is unfit for purpose with systemic challenges that need to be addressed at all education levels.

“In spite of over seven decades of government support for education and The UWI's dedicated efforts, which have led to the regional university's ranking among the top four per cent of universities globally by Times Higher Education, the current constraints of the highly indebted Caribbean countries and the projected economic contraction of close to eight per cent in 2020 now pose an existential threat to the higher education sector in the Caribbean, unless a fund to support human capital development is urgently established,” The UWI said in the news release.

Sir Hilary, who is also president of Universities Caribbean, a consortium of universities located in the English-, Spanish-, French-, and Dutch-speaking Caribbean, told the virtual audience of over 100 participants — including prime ministers, ministers of education, ministers of finance, other government officials, diplomatic missions and representatives from United Nations agencies and development banks — that the severity of these challenges comes at a time when countries need to draw on research and innovation to build knowledge economies and propel the region's economic diversification agenda.

He explained that the Caribbean's vulnerability to climate change, chronic diseases and exogenous shocks is being exacerbated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and that the resulting funding crisis for higher education and research is a burning issue that must be red-flagged as part of the region's emergency response to the pandemic.

He thanked the governments for trying their best to support The UWI in spite of the pandemic's severe impact on the region's gross domestic product, and also expressed his gratitude to ECLAC for facilitating the “important conversation”.

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