UWI vice chancellor: time to rethink ‘sagging’ economic drivers

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Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI)

Feb 7 (Barbados Today)– One of the Caribbean’s most noted academics says the region’s economies are “sagging”, and it is time for an urgent economic make-over.

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) is also suggesting that the continued focus on “old sectors” was no longer yielding the desired economic and social benefits for the region and its people.

He argued that the time has come for greater focus on building out a more digital economy if the region is to remain competitive.

“It doesn’t require much detailed assessment to recognise that the Caribbean economy pre-COVID, but now even clearer so post-COVID, the Caribbean economy is in need of new sources of entrepreneurial and innovative action and energy. We have to rebuild these economies,” Sir Hilary declared on Monday.

Most regional economies depend primarily on the tourism sector for economic growth. With continued recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, regional and international organisations have estimated that regional economic growth averaged around 10 per cent last year and could be around half of that this year.

“Old sectors of the economy have to be reformed, they have to be energised, they have to be restructured; and we are in search of new economic drivers, new forms of converting knowledge into industry and into productivity production,” said Sir Hilary.

“This is the time where the regional economy . . . has to be made over. We have to make-over this Caribbean economy. It is sagging, it is not as competitive as we would like it to be for all of the reasons – the world is moving ahead and the vehicle they are using to do this is the digital economy. The digital technologies are being implemented in sectors that are traditional and in the creation of new sectors,” he said.

Sir Hilary made the comments on Monday during the official launch of the UWI digital transformation project Empowering the UWI Revenue Revolution with Digital Transformation.

The model of the programme is focused on what officials have said are five mission-critical operations across the university system – academics, knowledge resource, technology, finance and administration.

The project is being funded through a $12 million loan from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). The Government of Barbados is standing as guarantor for $2 million. The government of Antigua and Barbuda and Sagicor, are the other guarantors.

Indicating that the university has been engaged in research and reflection over the past decade leading up to its digital transformation plan, Sir Hilary added that it was taking place “to serve the people of this region” and to make the UWI the “digital transformation epicentre of the Caribbean”.

Declaring that the university will not be taking the resources and “throwing them into a technology blackhole”, Sir Hilary gave the assurance that the UWI’s regional digital transformation was “not about buying hardware and stacking up the palace with technological expressions”.

“It is about ensuring that your main projects within the university can be empowered as a result, and defusing the technologies and the culture of that technology throughout the institution,” he said, adding that the university’s global campus is going to be the “digital transformation driver”.

Among other things, the UWI project is designed to help propel the learning institution’s reach globally and encourage innovative teaching and learning.

Under the phased transformation initiative, which is expected to be completed by August of this year, the UWI is also expected to adopt accessible learning portals, improve management systems and re-engineer ICT platforms.

Vice president of operations at the CDB Isaac Solomon said education remained a priority area for the financial institution. He said the bank had provided support totalling just over US$600 million over the past three decades.

However, he indicated that continuous upgrades were necessary and advancing the digital transformation of the regional learning institution was “critical for operational effectiveness, increased access to programmes, expansion of services and continued competitiveness”.

“Institutional and system level reforms must continue if UWI is to remain relevant, change as challenges evolve and new opportunities arrive and transition as the region’s university as the future,” said Solomon.

“Whatever challenges the university has in terms of access, quality and relevance, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated those and has heightened the need for innovation and transformation to remain a high-quality, regional public good that is good for all,” he said.

He also noted that with the need to increase enrollment, online opportunities will be critical as a shift to digital education continues.

“In addition, digital transformation is central to expanding the internationalisation of UWI programmes – the key strategic goal to diversify its revenue base,” he said, adding that this transformation must be “gender-responsive and inclusive”.

Solomon noted that once implemented effectively and efficiently, the digital transformation had the capability to influence global competitiveness and allow for greater flexibility and resilience in the long term.

However, he said several elements of an enabling environment were critical including a sustained commitment by the university counsel, engaged and empowered leadership and adoption of solutions that target financial resilience. (MM)


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