Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Here follows remarks by Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas Perry Christie at the Annual Business Meeting of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Council at the Melia Resort, Cable Beach April 25:
I wish to thank my Minister of Education, Science and Technology, the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald, for extending the invitation to me to be with such an august body of academics, representatives of various University organizations, and, of course, policy makers, represented by regional Ministers of Education and their advisers, who have come to The Bahamas for the Annual Business Meeting of the University Council.
It is not normal that as Prime Minister I would have the honour of being present at a business meeting of the University of the West Indies Council and so it affords me much pleasure to be able to welcome all of you to our country and to say how delighted I am that the University has made the decision to meet in The Bahamas.
I particularly wish to welcome the Chancellor, Sir George Alleyne, who is no stranger to The Bahamas dating back to his days when he gave distinguished service as the head of PAHO. We are always happy to see Sir George in our midst.
I also extend a very warm welcome to the Vice Chancellor, Professor E Nigel Harris and the various Pro Vice Chancellors and, of course, the Campus Principals. I had the pleasure of having a good dialogue with Professor Clement Sankay when I met him recently during my visit to the St. Augustine campus on the 7th April for a speaking engagement.
I note that one of my university conferees and a friend of long standing from our time together in the UK , Professor Compton Bourne, is also present together with His Excellency Edwin Carrington, formerly the longest serving Secretary General of CARICOM.
The Bahamas is perhaps unique in that the footprints of many distinguished West Indians, and some very ordinary but gifted ones, have crossed our shores and in so doing have made an indelible impression on our national life. This is not the time or occasion to recount this close connection with the rest of the Caribbean but suffice it to say that we are in part what we are today because of this. For this we owe the Caribbean a debt of gratitude and no doubt our own history will reflect this in time to come.
This is such a distinguished gathering that it emboldens me to say that it augurs well for the leadership and management of our premier regional university, the University of the West Indies. Collectively, you represent the highest tier of governance in the University. You share and carry an awesome responsibility, given the pivotal role that UWI has played since its inception in 1948 when it was then known as the University College of the West Indies.
In the nearly sixty five years since its founding this institution has had the task of developing the human capital of the citizens of the region and it is without debate that it has done this in a formidable way, covering nearly every discipline and area of study that is required for the development of our various societies. Its reach and influence has extended from Bermuda in the North to the farthest south of the Caribbean region, Belize. I am certain that your deliberations here in our capital will be productive and will advance the mission and mandate of the University.
The Bahamas’ place in the University is very secure and of long standing. We have been sending students to the University since 1952. Today, I can say with confidence that hundreds of Bahamian have benefitted from this exposure to the highest form of university education and have returned to our nation where they have made significant contributions. They are the teachers, the bankers, the lawyers, the public servants, the medical doctors, the agronomists, marine scientists, geologists, dentists and many more.
Our presence at the core of the University is also reflected in the fact that we have an Open Campus here in The Bahamas and are the proud host of the University Centre under which hosts the School of Tourism and Hospitality Studies and which has always attracted students from all across the region.
We have considerable pride in hosting the School of Clinical Medicine & Research which is a part UWI Faculty of Medicine and which is an adjunct to the Princess Margaret Hospital which is now a Teaching Hospital. Through this arrangement fourth and fifth year students may complete their practical requirements, including internship in The Bahamas. The faculty includes Bahamians as well as others from the University campuses.
There are many other areas of co-operation between the University and The Bahamas which are notable. There is significant co-operation in relation to the development of the University of The Bahamas. And so when I say the role and presence of The Bahamas within the University is secure there are notable facts with which to back up this assertion.
When I address the gathering at St. Augustine a few weeks back, the very nature of my audience caused me to reflect on the question of Caribbean integration.
I cited several examples of this but standing here this morning, it is clear to me and to anyone who would care to do any analysis, that the success of the University is but one telling example of functional integration within and throughout the Region. It should be clear to anyone who would question the willingness of our political leadership towards the deepening of the integration movement, that one need look no further than at the success of the University of the West Indies.
Here is an institution that began in Jamaica and today it has some 54,000 students in permanent campuses at Mona, in Jamaica, Cave Hill in Barbados, and St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago. There are Open Campuses across the Region and of course, we are happy to host an Open Campus here in The Bahamas.
I fear to think what our Caribbean society would have been like without the presence of this institution. We acknowledge that there are challenges that confront the University. One such challenge is that the field of higher education is becoming more and more competitive, particularly in light of the global competition for students and the fact that technology has made access to education far greater than when the University first open its doors. But these are the challenges that we must overcome if we are to forge ahead in developing a truly unique Caribbean institution.
In the next few minutes, I wish to turn to a wider theme which in recent months has taken on an acute focus for me–the co-relationship between higher education and public policy.
Over the past month or so I have been invited to speak at several institutions of higher learning. These included the University College of the Cayman Islands at the 2014 UCCI/UWI Caribbean Conference on the theme –“Towards a Corrupt Free Caribbean: Ethics, Values, Trust and Morality.” A few weeks later I also had the privilege of speaking at the St. Augustine Campus on The Bahamas in CARICOM. Just before these engagements, I went to the USA and visited the renowned University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science in Coral Gables.
All three of these engagements brought home forcibly the intricate linkages between pure academic discourse and research and public policy.
Too often we in the arena of politics and public policy fail to take full advantage of what should be an integral link between what is taught and being researched and what we do in the formulation of public policy.
By the same token, there are some in the academy who fail to see the practical application of that in which they are engaged in enhancing development outside the walls of academia. But even when we both acknowledge that what we as policy leaders require and what the academy provides can be beneficial to a wider world, there is no suitable bridge, no common meeting ground through which such open dialogue and frequent encounter can take place.
In our case, I came to this realization while formulating a policy that would bring about the creation of the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI). This will be placed in Andros which is the largest island in The Bahamas. This is a landmass which is larger than the island of Trinidad but with a population of less than ten thousand people. I am seeking to make a concerted effort for The Bahamas to develop its agricultural potential, and train farmers and fishermen who will not only conduct research and development but will grow food for our country. This is a determined effort to make the country more self-sufficient in food production.
In moving ahead with this project we have sought the considered expertise of scientists and others engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry, marine science, and curriculum development and large scale commercial farming. In particular, we have sought assistance from the University of Miami (the Rosenstiel School of Marine Science) and the University of Florida. Both universities have indicated their willingness to help the project along, no doubt, because they see that their activities on Andros Island would be consistent in supporting their own research and knowledge in an area in which they have a keen interest.
The University of the West Indies as the premier regional institution should be front and centre in this interchange. I should not have to look to the University of Florida or the University of Miami alone for the expertise to develop some of our own institutions.
This is one example where there is this nexus between the academy/university and the world of public policy.
Another area where the University should lead and be keen to co-operate with Governments is in the planning and development of Tourism.
We all know the value of Tourism to the overall economic strength of the Caribbean. It is the golden apple that has for the main part supplemented or in some cases replaced the agricultural economy in terms of its foreign exchange earnings and its employment multi-plier. It would be interesting to know just how much collaboration there is between the hallowed halls of the University and this most vital sector of our economy. In the case of Tourism I would also note that there is a strong link to the environment and here again, how much of the University’s research on the environment – weather patterns, hurricanes, deforestation, marine disasters and the pollution of our waters make their way into the policy matrix of governments in the region.
Finally, Financial Services which is now become a more intricate and academic area of research and monitoring is another area where there has to be this linkage and connectivity. The making of a Great Financial Services Centre involves the process of ensuring that your services-based economy works well, while also ensuring that your economy supports creativity and innovation. As Governments, we need to share our concerns on this area of challenge to our economy and if necessary we must commission those with an academic interest in these matters to provide studies and to create resource base from which our governments can draw on in formulating public policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen: I think I have made the point. There is a great connectivity between what we as politicians do and are pledged to do and what you do in the halls of academia. For our part in The Bahamas we have begun this process of engaging those who can provide us with research options that can help us in moving our society along.
Chancellor Alleyne, I thank you for allowing me to be a part of this opening ceremony of the Annual Business Meeting of the Council. We have great hope and confidence in the University of the West Indies as that institution which has gone a long way in knitting us together as a people and for being that sentinel that has guarded high and rigorous standards of education and learning throughout the Caribbean and beyond.
I thank you, once again, for the opportunity to be here this morning.