By Orville Williams
According to Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (The UWI), plans to develop the Five Islands Campus will not be negatively impacted by efforts to restructure the university’s finances; instead, the campus will play a vital role in charting the path for the future.
Sir Hilary made that declaration over the weekend as he gathered with the UWI’s five Campus Principals and three Pro Vice-Chancellors at a retreat here in Antigua, to further discuss “the strategy to monetise [the UWI’s] global reputation into sustainable revenue”.
One major component of that strategy is a Global Online Campus initiative which will see the UWI broaden its scope by offering courses and programmes not only in a traditional, site-based context, but also digitally, to markets across the region and the world.
Even though the UWI Open Campus will support this initiative via its already-established online operating system, achieving the historical feat will require significant investment. This begged the question, how will the university’s other plans – including growing the Five Islands Campus – be affected?
Sir Hilary explained to Observer that, instead of being left out of the plans or forced to deal with budget cuts as a result, the Antigua-based campus will play a major role, having always been considered an important cog in the university’s future planning.
“We are now looking at this global campus and the Five Islands Campus is going to be at the center of this global vision for taking the university out to the world,” he said.
The Vice-Chancellor spoke on the university’s beginnings in reinforcing his point, referencing the eagerness of the Jamaican government to “host and nurture” the first campus, Mona, back in 1948, as well as similar enthusiasm by the leaders of Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados to establish campuses in those countries.
The importance of the Five Islands Campus is undeniable, he affirmed, especially as it is coming to the fore during this current period of digital innovation.
“Because the Five Islands Campus was always at the center of our imagination, [in terms of] the kind of campus we were going to develop here [and] our relationship with the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, this was seen as the beginning of a new system.
“We have Prime Minister [Gaston] Browne, who is filled with the same ideas, the energy and the projections and he says, ‘I want a campus here in Antigua and Barbuda…and we are going to build out a new dynamism around technology [and] science’.
“So, this is now another leg of that journey…we had the Jamaica moment, then we had the Trinidad moment, then we had the Barbados moment. Now, we have the Antigua moment and Antigua is now the center of our imagination. Antigua is the place where we are imagining new and creative things, because we have the ecosystem here that is charting the future.”
The UWI Five Islands Campus was established back in 2019 with approximately 200 students and three schools, with plans to essentially double the student complement and establish more schools as the campus develops.
Along with the traditional programme areas, the Five Islands Campus is foraying into new territory, in the form of robotics and other similar areas of study.