Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 25th 2013 Contents JULY 2013 • WEEK FOUR www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG23
Afew days ago the BBC Televi-
sion World Service interviewed
one of the wealthiest persons
in China. She will be 48 years
old next month and her assets
are worth US$3.6 billion.
Zhang Xin was born into abject poverty, began
working in a sweat-shop, lived in a single-room
with her mother in Hong Kong, saved from her
paltry earnings to buy a ticket to the United
Kingdom where she took secretarial classes while
working. Then she attended my alma mater,
Sussex University, where she studied economics
before going on to Cambridge University to get
a Master s degree in development economics.
In 1995, she set up what is now the largest
property development company in China of
which she is the chief executive officer.
When asked what she believes was the key
to her success, her answer was unequivocal---
That is an answer that would be given by the
vast majority of successful persons from the
Caribbean in almost every subject. Education
liberated tens of thousands of ambitious and
hard-working Caribbean people from poverty
and allowed them to contribute to the develop-
ment not only of themselves and their countries
but also to other countries where many migrated.
More than 60 per cent of the tertiary-educated
people of the Caribbean live in Western indus-
All this is germane to the University of the
West Indies (UWI) which is the premier insti-
tution for higher learning in the Caribbean and
which, for 65 years this year, has been producing
graduates in a variety of fields.
UWI remains crucial to the continued liberation
and prosperity of Caribbean people and Caribbean
economies through education. But, the institution
lacks the support it needs from governments
and the Caribbean private sector (including for-
eign-owned financial institutions that have prof-
ited hugely in the region) if it is to continue to
serve the 16 Caribbean territories from which
its student body comes.
UWI is one of the few institutions that have
sustained themselves over the last decade. It has
done so despite the fact that a number of gov-
ernments of the Caribbean Community (Caricom)
have failed to honour their payment obligations
particularly in the last few years. Reports indicate
that UWI is now owed in excess of US$100 mil-
lion; a less resilient institution would have col-
lapsed under such a heavy burden of non-pay-
It is generally appreciated that the economies
of many of the Caribbean countries are in decline.
But their governments decision not to pay the
University is short-sighted.
For every Caribbean country---now more than
ever---requires educated people to be well trained,
to be entrepreneurial and innovative, and to con-
tribute their skills to economic recovery and
UWI deserves praise for its foresight in taking
initiatives to reduce dependence on governments
including by vigorously pursuing grants and
development funds from international agencies.
Examples of such external assistance are a
CDA$20 million grant from the Canadian Inter-
national Development Agency to UWI s Open
Campus to increase the number and diversity
of distance education progammes; and several
grants from the European Union (EU) for a variety
of projects relevant to Caribbean development.
As a regional university, UWI has won more
grants from the EU than any university in the
79-nation African, Caribbean and Pacific group.
In its areas of research, despite the fact that
it has suffered from a lack of funding from the
governments whose countries it serves, UWI
has done extremely well to raise money from
external sources and gain international standing
for research in some topics such as sustainable
development in small island states, early childhood
development, and select areas in law, marine
and environmental studies.
It is the University s good reputation, estab-
lished over many years, that has made it suitable
to donors for assistance.
To varying degrees campuses of UWI have
also introduced commercial operations as a
means of earning revenue. For all these initiatives,
UWI deserves the appreciation of the Caribbean
people. The University is a light shining in the
gloom of Caribbean integration; its sustained
success can help to dispel the darkness.
Funding UWI and higher education are now
critical issues. For instance, if the University is
to generate impactful cutting edge research and
innovation especially in science, its laboratories
need more resources to upgrade them. The lead-
ership of the University are also well aware that,
without adequate funding, the stock of trained
and qualified persons, who can help to drag
Caribbean countries back from the backwater
into which many of them are slithering, will
It is significant that, in the last seven years,
applications to UWI have grown from 17,000
to 30,000 and enrollment has grown from 27,000
to more than 40,000. There is, therefore, a thirst
for higher education which---if quenched by the
University---can serve the Caribbean well.
It has to be acknowledged that governments
cannot fund every person who wants to pursue
higher education. Some of the costs will have
to be shared by students as happens in many
other parts of the world. But, this should not
be an excuse for governments not to meet their
financial obligations to the UWI.
A formula should be agreed for paying-up
past dues and for sharing costs between gov-
ernments and students in the future. Priorities
should also be established for training in the
specialties that Caribbean countries require for
their economies to grow and compete globally.
UWI has itself set out a thoughtful strategic
plan for 2012-2017. It is a plan that recognises
the University s strengths, weaknesses, threats
and opportunities. But the plan s effective imple-
mentation is hobbled by the debts owed to it.
If the University is to continue to produce grad-
uates to meet the Caribbean s economic devel-
opment needs and satisfy the ambitions of the
region s people, education has to be a priority
for governments and the private sector. They
both have to give UWI the committed support
The issue is not academic, it is practical.
Note: There will be no commentaries from Sir
Ronald Sanders over the next two weeks as he
takes a break.
The writer is a consultant, senior research
fellow at London University and former
The University of the West Indies
Performing against the odds RONALD
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