For a few hours tomorrow afternoon Dr Haldane Davies will bask in the formalities associated with his installation as the third president of the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC).
But on Tuesday morning the highly qualified US Virgin Islander will resume his quest to further spur the university's rapid growth which, since its formation in 2004, now sees it operating five campuses, as well as UCC Online, a register of 7,000 students and 400 faculty and staff.
Growth for Dr Davies encompasses more than UCC's physical infrastructure, as the targets in his cross-hairs include research, agriculture, development of human capital, and improvement in the lives of the institution's staff.
"One of the key things that we will be zeroing in on is our global reach, to be able to ensure that we provide access to individuals, not only across Jamaica and throughout the region, but in various areas around the world," Dr Davies told the Jamaica Observer.
"We are cognisant of the diaspora, and the fact that as we engage in providing these educational opportunities here at home, that we're able to touch base with our colleagues and our nationals who reside all over the globe, so that they too can have an opportunity of experiencing what we are providing here," he explained.
"We believe that in our region, where just a small percentage of people — anywhere between 12 per cent and 15 per cent on average — have access to higher education, we need to do more, and I do not see any of our institutions in the region holding a position of competition for one against the other, because we have so much work to do, there is no time for that. We need to provide those opportunities to people to grow, to help them see that there is a difference that could be brought about in their own lives as a result of their engagement in higher education," Davies said, the sparkle in his eyes an indication of his anxiety to hit that target.
"I become a bit concerned at times when we look at economic development as only a matter of jobs created and dollars spent. An investor may come and put up a $2-billion resort, but then bus our people from our communities to those resorts and still pay them minimum wage, that's not right. It's absolutely wrong. People must be able to see that there is a difference in their life, in their living as a result of the impact that the economy is having on the wider society here, not only in Jamaica, but across the region," argued Davies who holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Educational Administration with a focus on higher education from Andrews University, USA, and a master's degree in education.
"Our focus is to help to lift individuals from wherever they are... and my purpose here is to inspire others to stand on their tiptoes and to see beyond the horizon, and to see what lies ahead for their future. It's not about me, but it's being a leader that will help others to grow and succeed and that's what it's all about... that's what UCC is all about," he told the Sunday Observer.
That said, the conversation moved to research, and Davies, it was obvious, grew more excited.
"I'll start with expansion of research for our faculty," he said. "Faculty must engage in meaningful research, and they must be able to publish their research, whether refereed journals, or other publications, or whether it's books and other types of presentations made, that publication must be out there to help to inspire and to improve others as you move along.
"So first of all, we'll be establishing a research fund that would allow individuals from across the university, across the community, across the world to contribute. We will highlight certain specific areas of research that our faculty will be engaged with, and then we will bring on board faculty who are research faculty only, and that's part of our plan as we build out; because we plan to do a lot of refurbishing here on this campus — replace a number of the buildings, and have state-of-the-art facilities going several storeys up."
A part of that expansion is UCC's knowledge city and edu-tourism venture, set to be constructed on 25 acres at Caymanas Estate. That facility, according to UCC Chairman Dr Winston Adams, is expected to host satellite campuses of a number of universities in the United States and United Kingdom that will offer undergraduate, graduate degree, and other professional development programmes.
"We are actively working on financing that right now," Dr Davies said.
"To be a bit more specific, for example, here we are surrounded by vast bodies of water... and we need to ensure that we are able to help to sustain ourselves and to be more resilient. What can we do in our research to help our fishermen? What can we do in our labs to develop new approaches and to patent those new discoveries in innovation that will help things like fish aggregation, how could we develop robots that can go out there and do a number of things that may not only be beneficial for us, but could be scaled up and produced commercially and used around the world with royalties coming back to the university to continue to grow this institution, and to expand the level of research that we plan to engage them? So that's very important.
In the area of agriculture, Davies has set his gaze on improving the food supply chain across the region, arguing, "We need to look at what strategically would be best for us to help to make this happen."
Asked what would give him the greatest joy in, say, another four years, Davies, without hesitation, said, "to see our faculty and staff further upgraded to the level that will make them all proud".
"We have a number of individuals who work with us here at the university who are genuine, they love what they do, and I want to be able to help them to move forward," he said.
"There are different things that we'll be bringing forward to assist them in the form of benefits with respect to tuition remission, not only for themselves, but for their spouse, their dependents, to be able to ensure that we are rewarding our people at the level at which they should be rewarded and compensated.
"So, making sure that our faculty and staff are really up at the level that would really make them all proud and see this as the best place to be. I want to be able to see UCC as the best place to work in higher education in Jamaica, in the years to come, for us to be able to allow our employees to be part owners of this institution to be able to benefit from the success of the institution, because we are here not just to ensure that quality education is provided, but we are able to provide quality education because of the support of our faculty and staff. And so we needed them to have some measure of security moving into the future," he said.