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:
THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES: MAKING A
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
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:
- 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.
- Maintain and build primacy in research scholarship,
inventiveness, and innovation necessary to drive our regions
economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific, health care and
- 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
- 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
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
- Access to low interest loans
- Teaching assistantships
- Partnerships with international collaborators with access to
- Partnerships with industry
In addition to building our educational and research endeavours, our
institution must address other challenges, only some of which I can
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- WE must rationalize our relationship with other universities,
colleges and tertiary learning institutions in our region,
particularly those that are funded by Caribbean governments.
- Examination and rationalization of our relationships with
internationally owned and operated off-shore entities located in our
countries also require attention.
- Review and update our communication information technology.
- Modernize and make market competitive our distance education
- 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
E. Nigel Harris