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UWI to focus research on chronic diseases; vice chancellor defends performance


VICE chancellor of The University of the West Indies Professor Hilary Beckles, amidst criticism from quarters over the management of the university, says the institution, though “not perfect”, has “proven itself” and is “worthy of the respect” of the region.

In his wide-ranging “State of our University Address” Monday, the vice-chancellor, who over the past week has addressed five meetings of the University’s Council, said, “The UWI of 10 years is no longer.” Noting that his team had been mandated by the region’s government to “renovate the reputation of the university”, Professor Beckles said that mandate has been “delivered on”.

“The university has been transformed and our reputation regionally and globally has never been higher. University leadership is not an ad hoc and random off-the-cuff affair; it is simultaneously an art and a science. We now have global respect, we have reliable friends, partners and allies in every corner of the globe… we cannot ask for more than this,” Beckles said, pointing out that in addition to global accolades from academia, there has been recognition from world leaders, including United States President Joe Biden while he was a presidential candidate.

He said the university, in its bid to gauge its standing, had engaged Times Higher Education, the number one higher education ranking agency in the world, after two years and came out on top.

“We were ranked the number one university in the wider Caribbean from a field of over 150 outstanding universities; we were ranked in the top one per cent of the best universities in Latin America and the Caribbean from a field of 5,000 universities. UWI is now ranked in the top four per cent of the world’s finest universities in a field of over 26,000 universities. What we have achieved in a mere three years is spectacular,” the vice-chancellor stated.

In the meantime, he said the university, to which millions in funding have been committed through various donors, will be particularly focused on its research agenda particularly in the area of chronic diseases.

“Chronic disease research has indicated very clearly that if you take this single marker of chronic diseases, then the black people of the Caribbean are the sickest people in the world. This is why Jamaica and Barbados are competing for the gold prize in the number per capita for amputations caused by complications in Type 2 diabetes, so that behind that magnificent image of physicality, having the fastest man in the world, the fastest woman in the world, the best cricketers, the physicality of entertainment, despite all of that physicality of fitness, behind that image of health is an existential threat of illness.

“We are in the vanguard of that research and making significant strides to turn that around,” he told the meeting.

In the meantime, he said the university has been in dialogue with a number of multilateral agencies, including the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

“I have had many conversations with ECLAC. We now have before them a request to help us raise $500 million to help fund the research this region will need. UWI can execute most of that. ECLAC sat with us for an entire day, the first occasion that ELAC has sat down with a single university to talk through its future needs. We were given that dignity of respect, to sit with ECLAC, to speak about this region, the research agenda and what UWI can do. They did not think that our request for $500 million was unreasonable. Those conversations are ongoing,” Professor Beckles stated.

Over the past few weeks the councils that govern the campuses of the university have received presentations on the various heads on how the regional university has fared over the 2019-2020 academic year in the face of increasing challenges crippling Caribbean economies and the global higher education sector, intensified by COVID-19.

On Friday, April 30, 2021, the University Council will hear from Professor Beckles an account of the overall university system and its centre operations — how the strategic plan has progressed since its implementation and more specifically, accomplishments during the last academic year. He will also outline the vision, leadership philosophy and road map to solidify the future for The UWI and the Caribbean.

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