Nearing the end of April, it was announced that Trinidad’s St Augustine campus of the University Of The West Indies would be receiving a new campus principal. In October, the incumbent Professor Clement Sankat is set to be replaced by Professor Brian Copeland, best known for his involvement in the steelpan industry and research into steelpan technology. However, beyond passing on the torch, should reform, namely placing more focus on academic research, also be a priority as well? After all, in the last decade or so, largely thanks to GATE, UWI’s student numbers have swollen exponentially yet most of these figures were comprised of undergraduates. Thus, postgrad numbers remained relatively low although they’re the ones who perform and conduct the bulk of academic research and inquiry.
It is one of the duties of a university to epitomize the democratic virtues of debate and questioning. Thus, UWI should endeavor to encapsulate this reputation by challenging ideas and endeavouring to advance research which can improve society and the human condition. Research in and of itself is good but emphasis must be placed on useful research that would benefit the region and its people. For example a study delving into youth violence and policies to reduce it would be more useful than one attempting to discern if the design and form of most vehicles are too masculine and patriarchal. To an extent this already occurs namely through the Cocoa Research Unit where award winning strains have emerged and through UWI’s engineering faculty, where local companies such as NGC provide funding for use in grants and maintaining facilities. Such partnerships are vital, especially when the looming threat of GATE funding being cut sometime (currently GATE funds roughly half the tuition fees for graduates and full tuition for undergraduates) in the future becomes more apparent and pronounced daily. As such, UWI should consider brokering more partnerships with both private and public sector organizations across all its faculties. This would allow existing PhD and Masters students more accessibility in their research inquiries.
However there’s also the problem of increasing the overall number of graduate students entering the university across the major faculties. In an article titled 20 Ways to Improve Your World University Ranking by the Times Higher Education 2 very useful suggestions included incentivizing research as well as reducing red tape. In the case of UWI this can take the form of generating an easier transition between undergraduate to graduate levels so as to effortlessly elevate students into these new programmes. On the flipside quality is important as well and thus, the other suggestion also encompassed training students from the lowest levels to not only actively engage in research but also develop an appreciation for it as part of the university’s identity and culture. Officials from UWI have already stated a desire in the past to recapture that essence as well. Thus, when new blood takes over later this year we’ll see if attempts to further that objective are carried out.