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Guyanese new UWI Vice Chancellor

University of the West Indies St Augustine campus principal Bhoendradatt Tewarie, left, newly installed Vice Chancellor Prof Eon Nigel Harris, centre, and Chancellor Sir George Alleyne share a light moment at the ceremony for Harris's installation.
[Trinidad Express Image]

Dear Member of The University of the West Indies (UWI) Community:


I am writing this letter on the first day of my tenure as Vice Chancellor to introduce myself to you. I wish to share my initial thoughts about the direction of UWI, to initiate a dialogue with you and to solicit your continued support for this great institution of which we are a part. It is my intention over the next three to four months, to meet with groups of students, academic staff of various Faculties, Resident Tutors in Centres of the Eastern Caribbean, Anguilla, Bahamas, Belize and Cayman as well as non-academic staff, other constituents and stake-holders. The intent of these meetings will be to hear from you what you think is “right” about us, what is not “so right” and what steps you believe we must take to better serve the university and region. Depending on where you are working in the university family, it is important to ask yourself one or more of the following questions: how is my unit providing value to the university, my country and region? How might we provide added value in the future?

I am joining you at a time when three Caribbean countries, Cayman, Grenada, and Jamaica, have suffered devastating losses from Hurricane Ivan. The University of the West Indies community, under the leadership of the outgoing Vice Chancellor, Rex Nettleford, has already initiated a Hurricane Relief Fund. I shall do all that I can to ensure this effort will help to mobilize all members of our community, alumni, and friends to contribute to those who have suffered losses in the affected Caribbean countries.

I wish to thank our outgoing Vice Chancellor, Professor Rex Nettleford, for providing leadership, inspiration, scholarship, and warmth to the institution over the last six years. It is challenging to follow in his footsteps and those of other great leaders such as Phillip Sherlock, Arthur Lewis, and Alister McIntyre. However, I draw my inspiration from the considerable success that our community as a whole has achieved. Many of our Prime Ministers and other political leaders, many of our region’s captains of public and private enterprises, our professionals, scientists and technical experts, and leaders in the arts and culture were trained at UWI. Many of our academic and non-academic staff comprise a body of thinkers, creators and innovators who are playing a critical role in engineering the economic growth and development of our region.

While there is much to celebrate, the reality is that our countries are demanding much more of us. Our region must contend with problems of poverty, crime, disintegrating agriculture-based economies, insufficient economic growth, HIV/AIDS, poor access to health care services and other challenges. Our regional leaders and community are looking to the university to become a central driver of growth and transformation. We must respond by doing the following:

  1. Make our university the institution of first choice for Caribbean students and parents. We must do so by providing stellar undergraduate and graduate students with the knowledge, skills, creativity, work ethic and commitment to engineer and lead transformational change in the Caribbean.
  2. Maintain and build primacy in research scholarship, inventiveness, and innovation necessary to drive our regions economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific, health care and intellectual development.
  3. Continue to provide and increase the intellectual capital and skills necessary to assist our government, public and private institutions, and community groups in programme planning, problem solving, and policy formation.

Our first responsibility is to our students-undergraduate, graduate, full time and part time located on our main campuses and at other sites of learning in the Eastern Caribbean, Anguilla, Bahamas, Belize and Cayman. While we celebrate the considerable increase in students enrolled in our university, we must ask questions such as:

  • To what degree are our support systems meeting the needs of our students?
  • Are students registered in programmes that would best meet future man power needs of the region?
  • Do the quality of our courses, adequacy of teaching, delivery systems, and learning environment equal and surpass our ‘competition’ within and outside the region?

These questions will require us to canvas our constituents (students and their parents) and stakeholders (government and business) on an on-going basis about how well we are meeting their expectations. They must be assured, too, that their opinions are important and that ours is a culture that strives to respond to their concerns. Accountability for such responses should ideally begin at the level of the department or administrative unit, rather than in the Offices of the Vice Chancellor, Campus Principal or oversight committees.

For a university to attain and maintain credibility as an institution of learning, it must not only provide stellar education, but it must have a vigorous, measurably productive, research enterprise associated with a large enough graduate programme that assures a continuous flow of scholars. Success of the research enterprise will require:

  • Assembly of a critical mass of investigators in specific areas most likely to contribute to growth and development of the region
  • Appropriate infrastructure to conduct research
  • Funding

Generation of sufficient funding to build our research enterprise will be our first and most important challenge. We must expand our efforts to generate more funds to build research capacity and graduate education. At the University leadership level, we must work to persuade our governments, industries and other businesses to establish some entity (such as a proposed Caribbean Research Funding Agency) to provide sustainable funding for individuals or groups of researchers that will be awarded on a competitive, peer-review basis. It is my opinion, too, that individuals conducting research must also be responsible for generating some of their own funding for research through some of the same strategies mentioned above.

No research programme can succeed without a significant pool of graduate students. Identifying resources to provide a critical mass of trained investigators is a challenge for most universities today. Approaches requiring our exploration include:

  • Research groups identifying funds for graduate students from granting agencies
  • Access to low interest loans
  • Teaching assistantships
  • Partnerships with international collaborators with access to funding
  • Partnerships with industry
  • Endowments

In addition to building our educational and research endeavours, our institution must address other challenges, only some of which I can summarize.

  1. Generation of more resources – financial, human (educators, researchers, administrative support) and infrastructure. This would require a comprehensive review of our revenue sources, creation and implementation of strategies to increase funding, while maximizing efficiency in allocation of resources that already exist.
  2. Greater administrative, educational and research coordination and collaboration between the different campuses and other centres. Standardization of courses across campuses and sharing of teaching responsibilities. Effective utilization of information technologies is a critical determinant in achieving these objectives.
  3. Provision of a more meaningful service to the countries of the Eastern Caribbean, Anguilla, Bahamas, Belize and Cayman. I believe this to be an urgent priority, if we are to maintain our integrity as a regional university. To achieve this, we must first engage our stakeholders in those countries (government/business/education communities) to join us in assessing their needs and in devising strategies to meet them.
  4. WE must rationalize our relationship with other universities, colleges and tertiary learning institutions in our region, particularly those that are funded by Caribbean governments.
  5. Examination and rationalization of our relationships with internationally owned and operated off-shore entities located in our countries also require attention.
  6. Review and update our communication information technology.
  7. Modernize and make market competitive our distance education system.
  8. To engender a culture of mutual respect we must implement our sexual harassment policies at all university sites. Individuals with complaints should be fully aware of where to seek help and support (I shall work personally with student groups, academic and non-academic unions to ensure achievement of this goal).

In closing, let me state that our success will rely on forging a spirit of optimism, energy, inventiveness, commitment and collaboration. This must occur in an environment that expects, encourages, celebrates and rewards excellence. I am excited about the prospect of working with you to ensure that our university is First in our region as an agent of growth, development and transformation – that each of you, our stakeholders and constituents can readily state how “The UWI is making a difference for the Caribbean people”. Given our history, the talent of our scholars, academic and non-academic staff, I am certain that we can succeed.

Yours sincerely,

E. Nigel Harris
Vice Chancellor

Source: http://www.mainlib.uwi.tt/newsitems/vcletter.htm


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