LONDON, England (CMC) — A new report says universities are playing an active role in helping Caribbean states to achieve the United Nations' Millennium Devel opment Goals (MDGs), whose targets have been raised to make them more regionally relevant.
Rural campuses, advocacy for gender equality, HIV-Aids research and environmental sustainability programmes are just some of the ways in which universities are contributing, said the London-based University World News in a statement on Sunday.
University World News prides itself in being the first publication of Higher Education Web Publishing Ltd.
"With its chain of small islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea, the region has a relatively high level of development, but with pockets of poverty," it said.
It noted that Barbados and the Bahamas rank among the top 75 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index, with Barbados scoring 37th in 2009 and the Bahamas 52nd.
"Given this and its unique status as a collection of politically and culturally diverse states, the Caribbean has aimed higher and approached the MDGs merely as a baseline marker, making modifications and additions where necessary," it added.
At the annual Association of Commonwealth Universities conference in Cape Town last week, Professor Andrew Downes -- director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) -- said the region has "raised the bar higher than what exists in the MDGs."
For example, in goal two, he said the region expanded achieving universal primary education to also include achieving universal secondary education; and, in goal three -- promote gender equality and empower women -- it added the target to reduce all forms of gender-based violence by 2015.
By engaging in national development research, training students for the labour market and providing outreach services to government and the community, Downes said the nine main tertiary institutions in the region have had a significant impact on the region's MDG achievement.
"The role of universities in developing countries is to enhance the human capital base, so they need to focus on development problems in their regions," he told the publication.
University World News said Caribbean universities have contributed to the MDGs through a variety of initiatives, stating that the region is on track to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (goal one).
But it said that those living below the poverty line is still high, ranging from nine per cent in the Bahamas in 2001 to 39 per cent in Dominica in 2002 (the most recent data available).
Through extensive research, the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the University of Guyana found that education and training played a major role in reducing poverty, University World News said.
"Campuses have, therefore, been established in rural areas in Guyana, Jamaica and Belize to educate the region's poor," it said, adding that a continuing education unit offers the community short courses in basic skills, such as computing, secretarial and office.
University World News said the region is on track with goal three, thanks largely to research conducted by universities on gender relations.
UWI houses the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, providing research and outreach on women and gender issues in Caribbean society.
It said researchers have also looked at the issue of male underachievement, "which is pervasive in the Caribbean".
"Although females are under-represented in politics, they far surpass males in the classroom," it said.
"The enrollment rate of women in Caribbean universities is twice that of men; and, at UWI, females make up 70 per cent of the student body," it added.
"It's the issue of the marginalisation of males," said Downes. "We're trying to get behind the problem, and look at the reasons why males are underachieving."
The publication said strides have been made in reducing child mortality and improving material health (goals four and five) and in combating HIV-Aids, malaria and other diseases (goal six), "though public education and stigma are still big problems".
It said universities across the region have put HIV-AIDS high on the agenda.