15 PMs, countless gov’t ministers, opposition leaders, CEOs, athletes and the list goes on
FORMER prime minister of Jamaica P J Patterson, one of the earliest students to attend the University of the West (UWI), delivered one of the most comprehensive presentations on the work of the UWI and its Development Endowment Fund (UWIDEF) at its recent donor recognition and scholarship awards luncheon at the Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston. Following is an edited version of the address:
Sixty-five years ago, when this university was founded, many in our society, and even more outside, questioned the relevance of a university to our small island states which at that time were still subject to colonial domination. These critics were silenced by the persuasive eloquence of those who envisioned the undertaking of intellectual pursuit through academic knowledge and relevant research as the key for human development in the region.
When the 32 brave students donned their scarlet robes and took their place in the first classes to be offered in this university in 1948, there was great pride in some quarters, but ridicule in others. The early history of the university was characterised by a spirit of enterprise and sacrifice, underpinning the efforts of Caribbean leadership which had emerged from the labour struggles of previous years to loosen our societies from the colonial scaffold and to pave the way for the Independence that was yet to be realised through an investment in higher education.
Publicly funded university education was seen as a powerful weapon to break the chain of exploitation and to prepare the way to fashion a dynamic, vibrant Caribbean existence and a shared regional identity.
The early vision was for a university distinguished for its intellectual maturity, that would build confidence in our own skills and learning — an institution that would stand for the people and with the people. It would develop leaders who would promote and facilitate social cohesion, tolerance, peace and encourage, respect and understanding. It would use the resources invested in it, at great sacrifice by the people, with the greatest prudence, and it would serve as a symbol of the commitment to the cause of nationhood in difficult, as well as in favourable times.
The success of the university enterprise is reflected in the impact that it has had in producing the leaders and professionals for almost every sector of our nations. It has provided tertiary education to 15 prime ministers and countless ministers of government. (The late Mutty Perkins used to claim that the UWI was responsible for all our political maladies). It has trained permanent secretaries, directors, chairmen and board members of public and private sector entities, CEOs of the major private sector firms, heads of entrepreneurial organisations, and leading professionals in all sectors. Its clerics occupy the pulpits. Several have become celebrated athletes — others have broken new ground in a variety of sports.
The fact that Jamaica and the Caribbean enjoy healthy outcomes, infant mortality and life expectancy levels that have improved substantially since the 1960s, and are comparable with those of developed countries, is in large part due to the contributions of the Faculty of Medical Sciences and to the work of UWI Research Institutes such as the Tropical Medicine Research Institute.
The justice system throughout the region is staffed largely by graduates of the institution; and many of the region's economists, analysts and managers of financial institutions are graduates of the UWI.
From an initial class of 32 scarlet-gowned medical students in 1948, the University has grown to its current enrolment of over 43,000 students across the region, excluding those in the Open Campus system. As enrolment numbers have expanded, so has the Mona Campus, and the university more generally, maintained its focus on quality and equity of access.
The academy's founding parents understood that if the social re-engineering objective was to be effectively met, it was important that the higher education provided at the institution should be widely accessible.
All over the world, even in developed countries, but moreso, in the developing world, the financing of higher education is one that has come to attract the attention of policymakers. It has become even more pressing as more students become eligible to access higher education and knowledge is increasingly recognised as the key to economic growth and social development.
In Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean we have made great strides in affording greater access of the eligible age cohort to tertiary education.
Within this context, questions about the extent to which higher education is a public good accruing to the benefit of the societies that fund this education, or a private good that benefits the graduates and their families, have increasingly been raised.
Sometime ago, the Jamaican Government decided on a funding model whereby it would provide 80 per cent of the economic cost of educating each student at Mona, and the students and their families would assume responsibility for the remaining 20 per cent. To ensure that access would be preserved for those students from the poorer segments of society, the Students' Loan Bureau was established. We have witnessed the strains imposed on the SLB by the tremendous surge in demand.
Although the Government's subvention to each student has fallen to some 50 per cent of the economic cost, the University has not increased the fees applicable to the individual student beyond 20 per cent of the economic cost. The UWI is to be commended for finding ways of funding aspects of its operations — increasing its efforts to attract research and other capital grants, and implementing innovative ways of earning income to supplement the subvention from the Government. In real terms, the UWI has earned income sufficient to provide that 80 per cent subsidy to some 26 per cent of its student population.
The Mona Campus has done this without compromising on the quality of candidates admitted to its membership. It has remained true to its commitment to teach more students, do more research and provide even more special services to the Government, with the goal of accelerating national development.
The success of these efforts is reflected in the increasing rankings of the University among comparable institutions internationally. The UWI's commitment to quality is reflected in the awards received by its graduates and faculty members, the increasing frequency with which the work of its researchers is cited by others.
The number of students at the University has expanded substantially, but the matter of equity in access remains an important concern. The process of social transformation is not nearly completed. Many of the students at Mona are still the first in their families to have had the opportunity to pursue higher education. We cannot rest until there is at least one university graduate per household in our country. The impact of a single graduate in the family is transformational in so many respects. The economic impact can be readily grasped. But of equal importance is the graduate's impact on the values and attitudes of the nuclear unit, on the aspirations of siblings, and on the pride and sense of accomplishment of parents.
Advancing the cause
Since the recent ruling of the CCJ (Caribbean Court of Justice) in the Shanique Myrie case, there is a widespread acceptance that although we have come a long way, there is still a far way to go.
George Lamming, a Dean of our novelists, has written:
"The time is overdue for the Caribbean to be at the centre of the curriculum at all levels of the region's education system — not simply as a matter of geography but as an organic path in understanding who we are as one people."
To this end, the UWI would betray its raison d'etre — as Sir Phillip Sherlock lucidly expressed it 60 years ago — representing a kind of partnership between many peoples... an effort at collaboration that is in direct opposition to the fragmentation and divisions imposed on the region by the distant rivalries of distant powers".
When I entered UCWI in 1954, Mona was the only Campus. Coming from Belize to Guyana, Jamaica to Trinidad and Tobago, Montserrat to St Lucia, we departed those hallowed premises as ardent and unrepentant regionalists.
Obviously, the Mona monopoly could not continue. In addition to Cave Hill, St Augustine, the advances of technology have now made possible the Open Campus.
All our nations have rightly established their own Universities, technical colleges and centres of tertiary learning. The building of our human capital is an imperative and we must expect this expansion to increase with the spawning of additional offshore and private universities.
But the UWI must never lose its unique regional focus.
Development & Endowment Fund
"It is in this context that the role of the UWI Development and Endowment Fund must be viewed. As the fund-raising arm of the UWI Mona, UWIDEF provides funds, raised through capital campaigns and projects, general endowment and planned giving.
In an environment where the Government is unable to provide additional resources, it is important that the private sector step into the breach.
The luncheon provides an opportunity for us to recognise and thank those firms, alumni and friends whose contributions demonstrate their confidence in, and commitment to the University of the West Indies. I am particularly keen to recognise the new donors, even as we express our gratitude to those who continue in the long tradition of providing financial support to the academy.
In 2000, the Council of the UWI established the Millennium Student Fund which was intended to facilitate student travel across the campuses of the UWI. This is considered a necessary strategy in light of greatly diminished student movement with the restructured UWI.
The fund was established with a grant of US$30,000 per campus. These funds were sufficient to enable no more than two or three students to spend a semester or a year at another campus. It would cover airfare and subsistence including accommodation. By 2003, the fund was exhausted and not replenished.
In 2006, in response to the failure of this initiative, Council established another facility: The Caribbean Integration Programme Bursary.
This fund had a similar objective but was intended to allow a student to access US$5,000 to fund a semester visit to another campus. Ten such bursaries were provided.
Since 2000, less than 100 students have benefitted directly from these two initiatives. A combination of inadequate resources and ineffective promotion has hampered their effectiveness.
I believe the alumni of the university have an obligation to give back in meaningful ways to their alma mater — to its continued development and particularly in ways that will perpetuate its traditions for excellence and its mission to advance the cause of regional integration.
I therefore wish to propose that there be created a special window in the existing Endowment funds on each campus territory that would be devoted to supporting the interchange of students for one or two semesters every academic year. In making such an appeal, I will call upon my fellow alumni to join me in making a financial contribution, within their means to such a programme.
I am prepared to go further and indicate even for one who is seeking to shed some load during my retirement years, my availability to spearhead such a drive in accordance with arrangements to be settled by the University Council and the support of such staff as they may be disposed to assign.
The University of the West Indies has remained truthful to its mission. Yet it is a mission which has no end; for the light must forever be the beacon which guides our Caribbean people along the pathway of social and economic upliftment; one which illuminates our quest for cultural and intellectual fulfilment and remains the spotlight for realising our worth as Caribbean people.