Proud of The UWI; it must now make some moneySunday, September 26, 2021
Despite some seriously challenging circumstances, The University of the West Indies (UWI) is now ranked in the top 1.5 per cent of the nearly 30,000 universities in the world, improving its standing for the third year in a row.
This is based on the findings of the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, the most highly regarded university ranking system, which were released on September 2, 2021. To say this is an excellent achievement is a gross understatement of fact for several reasons.
The governments of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), led by Jamaica with the largest percentage cut, have substantially reduced their financial contributions in real terms. This has forced The UWI to try to make up the shortfall by, among other things, raising tuition fees.
Inevitably, this has imposed extreme hardship on the majority of students, causing some to drop out without finishing their degrees, and discouraging many who are qualified from entering. Hence, the debt owed by The UWI and to The UWI has increased.
The unpleasant, embarrassing, and very public debate over the reappointment of the Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles certainly did not help matters. He was eventually reappointed but without the expressed support of the two largest contributing governments – Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
All of this was happening in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, which severely affected all universities, including The UWI, forcing them to switch from face-to-face to online delivery. There were complaints from students, who said they did not have a laptop or tablet and reliable access to Internet services. Alumni and the private sector were very helpful in providing equipment to some disadvantaged students.
It is of note that the ranking is based on a composite weighted index, which measures the quality of teaching, the amount of research published and its cit ations, public service, and international collaboration.
Leadership must get credit, but it is an achievement reflecting the quality of work of each and every one of the academic staff. Special commendation goes to Pro-Vice Chancellor Densil Williams and his technical staff for compiling all the necessary data for submission to the Times Higher Education.
To be sure, there is room for urgent improvement at The UWI, especially in cost efficiency. The UWI is one of the few institutions that has not reduced its administrative and support staff during this crisis, when governments and the private sector have had to do so. Governments and the public are not convinced that The UWI has done enough in cost reduction, given all the “brains” on its staff.
The UWI needs to do more to earn more, given that it is now a recognised international brand. It must earn foreign exchange in the global marketplace for higher education by selling its courses online to the Caribbean Diaspora and to the world. This has been an opportunity not exploited as evidenced by the underperformance of the Open Campus.
Having attained the highest tier of global university rankings, The UWI must capitalise on this to improve its financial viability and sustainability.
It must no longer expect the cash-strapped governments that largely finance The UWI to support it in the manner to which it has become accustomed in the halcyon days.