Juggling different points of view and ideas at a college council meeting has to be taxing at the best of times, but when those in attendance include a country’s education secretary, and sometimes even a prime minister, an additional level of coordination is needed.
This is something that is experienced regularly at the University of the West Indies, a public university serving 17 English-speaking countries and territories in the Caribbean. It is one of only two regional multi-country universities in the world: the other is the University of the South Pacific.
Richard Bernal, the university’s pro vice-chancellor for global affairs, said Times Higher Education that these kinds of high-level meetings, at a university stretching from Belize to Trinidad and Tobago, “take a lot of planning and management.”
“There is goodwill out there, everyone is for higher education. Everyone wants more and better, ”he said.
The challenges for the university, which has campuses in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, and also offers online courses, are “the synchronization and standardization of procedures and of course logistics”, did he declare. “We’re doing more and more online, but for some meetings you have to be physically present… and we have to make sure it’s only one university. “
There are, however, plans for more campuses. “We have been approached by some countries that do not have a physical campus and would like one. We are evaluating them… but we have to make sure that in these times, when governments are financially constrained, it is affordable and financially sustainable, ”said Dr Bernal.
Government funding for higher education is a problem around the world, but government funding for UWI comes from multiple jurisdictions.
Much like the UK, funding for higher education has changed in the Caribbean, said Dr Bernal, who was previously Jamaican Ambassador to the United States. “There were days when governments provided all the money; since the 2008 financial crisis, Caribbean countries have been under increasing fiscal constraints. We are growing, so we had to do more in terms of fees, which we need to keep low, but the governments that fund us are limited. “
Dr Bernal is not critical of the position of these national governments. “They’ve been good to us for 70 years… eventually they’ll come back to a better position,” he continued.
The university was founded in 1948 as an external college to the University of London and, although it is now fully independent, it has a good relationship with the UK, Dr Bernal said. However, after Brexit, UWI “will have to pay more attention to Europe, as we have launched some of our main European initiatives alongside the UK,” he said. “But Brexit or no Brexit, we have a long-standing relationship with the UK, separate from Europe. There will be no damage to that.
The university’s ability to work with different countries and governments – with different priorities – has proven to be an important strength as the university aims to position itself in a global context. “Because we are a multi-country university, what is regional is actually a form of international interaction. Globalization is therefore a natural path ”, according to Dr Bernal.
The university’s plans to expand globally crystallized two years ago with the creation of Dr. Bernal’s post dedicated to globalization. “We already have people from all over the world, but our number is small – 3% of the student body – so we’re looking to do more,” he said.
The university will also soon open its Global Center for Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management, which will provide advice and crisis management in the face of global disasters caused by climate change that affect tourism, economies and livelihoods. , as well as research on prevention and resilience. .
This center, in collaboration with the UN and international academic partners, will be based at UWI in Jamaica, but will operate globally, said Dr Bernal. “A lot of the destinations that rely heavily on tourism are in the tropics… but we are seeing more and more natural disasters, such as stronger hurricanes. They are spreading, it is a global problem. he added.