Densil A. Williams | UWI deepening industry alliances
As Caribbean economies reposition and restructure their operations to achieve significantly higher and more sustainable levels of economic growth, the call by policymakers and public commentators for the higher-education sector and, in particular, the university sector to become more activist in the quest for growth, has also increased.
It is not surprising that a number of commentators have called on the UWI, the leading and most prestigious university in the Caribbean (Times Higher Education (THE) ranked the UWI at 37th of 129 universities in Latin America and the Caribbean and the only ranked university in the Caribbean), to do more in preparing graduates for the job market of the 21st century.
Universities, in the main, are generally focused on knowledge creation that will help to solve current and future problems in our society. This, sometimes, takes time and the rewards are not always immediate.
For, knowledge creation is not an effortless task and an activity that happens overnight. It involves among other things, a process of reflection, hypothesising, testing, verification, and dissemination as part of the value chain in the generation of new knowledge that will advance societies. This, when done properly, is painstaking and time-consuming.
While the UWI is cognisant of its primary role as a producer of new knowledge to advance learning and facilitate innovation for the positive transformation of the society, it is also making significant transformation to provide time-bound solutions to contemporary problems.
‘TRIPLE A’ PLAN
The embodiment of this transformation is in its 'Triple A' strategic plan. The plan calls for widening access to the underserved population of the region and not merely increasing enrolment, deepening the UWI’s involvement with industry to drive innovation and wealth creation through its Alignment pillar, and making the UWI more nimble to respond to opportunities in the global, regional and domestic marketplace through its Agility pillar.
The plan promotes industry/academic partnerships through the positioning of two pro vice-chancellors who are responsible for industry/academic relations and the promotion of the entrepreneurial culture within the institution.
Over the last 12 months, the UWI, in order to deepen its alignment with industry, embarked on a number of initiatives in this regard. These include:
1. The vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), which led to the establishment of an Innovation Committee where PSOJ members and UWI faculty members meet to discuss ideas on how to use research to drive innovation within the business sector.
The UWI is also working closely with the PSOJ to establish research and innovation parks in Jamaica as part of a thrust to drive greater levels of innovation in the economy and where private capital can be linked with ideas that have strong commercial potential.
In the same breath, the vice-chancellor and a team of UWI executives also engaged the Economic Growth Council (EGC) and invited them to tour the facilities of the UWI, Mona, with the aim of discussing possibilities for the commercialisation of the research done at the UWI.
2. Through its various academic departments, schools and institutes, the UWI is engaging in an extensive restructuring of its curriculum to produce graduates that are meeting the contemporary needs of the environment it serves.
As an example, Mona School of Business and Management revamped its internationally accredited MBA programme and also its MSc programmes to include a compulsory internship for all students. Similarly, the Mona Campus has established a Faculty of Engineering to increase the number of graduates as part of the push for more graduates in science and technology.
3. The UWI, as part of its globalisation thrust, also forged a number strategic partnerships with globally respected universities in order to benefit from knowledge exchange, to strengthen its research capabilities and to offer global opportunities to its students. For example, there is a UWI-SUNY Institute for Sustainable Development in New York. Similarly, The UWI has partnered with the Global Institute of Software Technology (GIST) in Suzhou, China, to establish the UWI-China Institute of Information Technology (UWICIIT).
Already, more than 30 students have left the Caribbean to further their studies in software engineering and digital data management in China. When they return, their skills will be deployed into the local and regional economies.
4. In July 2017, the UWI launched the Faculty of Sport, a critical institutional development to assist the region to professionalise and commercialise the talent pool in the sport industry, a key sector that can have significant growth potential for Caribbean economies.
5. The UWI is also engaged in a significant project to re-engineer its processes and systems to deliver higher-quality service to its various stakeholders. The technological transformation and digitalisation of the UWI is on in earnest in order to enable greater agility in the new processes and to reduce the cost of service delivery.
While The UWI is not in the business of training persons for a specific job, today, which I must agree with Gleaner columnist Martin Henry is a bad idea as these jobs will, more than likely, be gone in the next five to 10 years, it has approached its role as an academic institution with great balance and dexterity. It is producing graduates that are capable of operating in a complex and increasingly changing global marketplace while at the same time producing new knowledge that will deal with current and future problems and issues.
Indeed, surveys of employers of graduates from The UWI show that employers have consistently rated the graduates highly. For example, in the 2016 employer survey of undergraduates at Mona, 80 per cent of employers surveyed rated the performance of the graduates as satisfactory or very satisfactory.
While this is encouraging, The UWI is consistently researching and implementing new ways to improve the quality of its graduate pool. The deepening of its alignment with industry and the strategic partnerships with globally recognised universities are all aimed at achieving this objective.
In his address to the PSOJ in early 2017, Vice-Chancellor Beckles implored the private sector to work more closely with the UWI to strengthen the link with academia and industry. The PSOJ has embraced this call and is working with The UWI and other academic institutions to ensure that the output from these institutions is meeting the needs of the commercial sector. Jamaica and the region will benefit from these transformational initiatives in the medium to long term.
- Densil A. Williams is professor of international business and pro vice-chancellor of academic industry partnerships and planning at the UWI. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.