The University of the West Indies is in discussions with governments of the Eastern Caribbean to transform community colleges into university colleges of the UWI to meet the demands of tertiary education for transformation of economies in the region. “The reason for this expansion is because we recognise that despite the tremendous expansion of our tertiary sector, it is still insufficient for the transformation that we are expecting in this region,” said UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles.
Beckles was one of several speakers that included Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Guyana’s President David Granger, Housing and Urban Development Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal and UWI St Augustine Campus Principal Professor Clement Sankat who on Friday afternoon, addressed the gathering for the ceremonial Topping-Off and Deed Handover of the St Augustine South Campus, Penal-Debe.
Beckles said the English-speaking Caribbean has the smallest number of adult citizens enrolled in tertiary education in the entire western hemisphere.
It was disturbing, he said, because the potential for transformation into an innovation stage depends on the number of citizens involved in tertiary education.
The expansion of UWI St Augustine, he said, was an indication that Trinidad and Tobago was heading rapidly to global standards because of the number of citizens involved in tertiary education.
The St Augustine South Campus, he said, was the fourth phase in the development of UWI.
UWI began at Mona, Jamaica, then St Augustine, followed by Cave Hill, Barbados and the Open Campus, and was now developing satellite campuses across countries in which they serve. At present, Beckles said, the UWI was working with the Jamaican government to expand its Mona Campus in Montego Bay.
Meanwhile, UWI Chancellor Sir George Alleyne, who expressed gratitude to the TT Government for the 142 acres of land and $600 million investment in the South campus said, “This campus represents the largest single one-time investment in the university by one of its contributing territories” since the establishment of the Cave Hill Campus 50 years ago.
“We cannot take these moments lightly. This is a time in which an economic recession is challenging all of us who have the responsibility for maintaining a first class international university for our people,” he said.
The construction was being done at a cost of $513 million and $97 million has been approved by Cabinet for the outfitting of the campus.
Not only has St Augustine moved into the leadership position of the UWI, Alleyne said, it was now the largest of the three campuses, having an enrollment of 19,000 including 6,000 post graduate students.
“To the extent that it is the largest, we expect that physical dimension be translated into intellectual leadership,” he said.
In brief remarks, Tertiary Education Minister Fazal Karim said that the completion of construction was behind schedule, but was within budget.
He noted that Friday’s ceremony included the opening of the law building faculty and the moot court to meet the much needed space and excess demand by law students. At present, he said there were students paying over $300,000 to pursue their LPC in London. “All that can be done right here,” he said. In her address, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar commended those who have worked to make the campus a reality. “There were a few who were emphatically against a campus in south Trinidad,” she said because they thought that Penal-Debe was only famous for doubles.
“To those who believe that we should not have invested in a south campus,” she said, “today that vision has become reality.”
As part of the regional network, she said the campus will also bring in revenue to the country, and local students who could not gain a place at the overcrowded north campus, because of distance, traffic gridlock, and other costs, will now be able to access a tertiary education.
Dismissing rumours that a PP Government in a new term will get rid of the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses programme, Persad-Bissessar said, “We will not cut GATE.”
However, she said that Government will monitor and review the GATE programme to make it more efficient. Due to reviews and monitoring, she said that some $30 million has been recovered or returned because of duplications by students. Since its inception UWI has received some $1.5 billion from the GATE programme.