Editorial: Sir Hilary’s challenge
Anyone who knows anything about Hilary Beckles knows that he knows more than a thing or two about cricket. And not only of the sociocultural aspect of the game, about which he has written eloquently and, occasionally, at least for Jamaican tastes, speaks with an uncensored foot in the mouth.
Hilary Beckles can bat - literally; in the sense that C.L.R. James celebrated Matthew Bondsman, and as anyone would know who saw him in the golden season at the turn of the 1990s, in the second tier of the Barbados cricket leagues. So, Sir Hilary understands what it is to have a crucial innings to play, and coming after a batsman who has, on a difficult wicket, put good runs on the board as E. Nigel Harris did.
Just over a week ago, Sir Hilary, formerly the principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI) at Cave Hill, Barbados, succeeded Professor Harris as vice-chancellor of the university, which, effectively, makes him the CEO, based in Jamaica.
He comes to the job at a critical time, with Caribbean countries, the university's owners, facing fiscal crises, while being forced to adapt to the rapid changes in the global economy and in need of workforces capable of being competitive in this increasingly technology-driven environment.
The University of the West Indies is expected to make a major contribution to these
efforts - in educating and training people for this still-evolving, globalised market and helping to provide answers to the region's social, political and economic problems. And it is expected to do this with reduced - and receding - subsidies, or capital injections, from its shareholders.
Not so long ago, contributions from Caribbean governments accounted for 80 per cent of the UWI's budget. That is now around 49 per cent, and at the end of the 2013, they owed the university BDS$210 million, or more than J$11 billion. As Professor Harris noted in his valedictory remarks: "Our greatest worry is financial." And therein lies one part of Sir Hilary's challenge.
Hilary Beckles is a historian, with a formidable grasp of the socio-economic antecedents of Caribbean societies. Indeed, he chairs the Caribbean Community's (CARICOM) task force on reparations. The issue is whether he possesses the savvy or inclination to accelerate the process of entrepreneurship - broadly defined - started by Professor Harris, so as to compensate for the forced retreat by regional states. This is an issue that carries with it the dissonance of the recent contretemps between Sir Hilary and the Barbados government over its reduction of funding to university students, particularly those at Cave Hill.
If Sir Hilary is inclined to this vision of the university, he will have to find creative ways to increase the six per cent of its income from commercial ventures like the business outsourcing operation at the Mona campus and the 15 per cent from tuition. At the same time, the UWI must offer education that recognises the centrality of science and technology to modern economies.
Social sciences/humanities accounted for more than 70 per cent of undergraduate enrolment at the UWI. Applied science and technology lagged woefully. The latter is now heading towards 40 per cent, with significant advances, particularly at Mona. Continued advances on these fronts will depend significantly on the vision of the vice-chancellor, but must be shared by those he leads.