Sun | May 26, 2019

Beckles: UWI to re-energise regional economies through research, innovation

Published:Thursday | April 25, 2019 | 12:21 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Sir Hilary Beckles
Sir Hilary Beckles

It has been a long-held view that The University of the West Indies (UWI) engages in sophisticated research and study, churning out intellectuals to fill positions for the job market as doctors, attorneys, and business executives. But a new thrust is being engaged to focus inputs at the region’s largest tertiary institution by targeting innovation and entrepreneurship as key elements of sustained economic growth across the region.

The new effort was discussed at yesterday’s private sector consultation breakfast at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston under the theme ‘Towards a More Entrepreneurial UWI’.

“We are now here speaking about the post-IMF (International Monetary Fund) Caribbean. We have a responsibility not only to imagine a post-IMF Caribbean, but we have to create it. We have to create a Caribbean world behind this IMF experience. We have to imagine it, we have to see it, we have to implement it, and we have to start planning aggressively for that world,” Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles said.

Noting the importance of innovation as a key element of economic growth, Beckles pointed out that the university must perform a leadership role in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship across the region in order to realise the required growth.

The objective is to make The UWI more entrepreneurial, which will result in turning research into workable solutions for Caribbean industries and businesses.

Beckles argued that now is the time for a refocus to re-engineer The UWI’s role in today’s fast-paced and highly computerised world.

“We are putting our stake in the ground that we are not going through another 20 years of low and negative economic growth. We are going to break out of it, and we are going to get back on trajectory. That requires the rekindling of our self-confidence, the eradication of doubt, and taking responsibility for our decisions,” he told the gathering of top business leaders and industry players.

biggest challenge

He added that the biggest challenge facing The UWI is demonstrating how serious the institution is about rebuilding, monetising, and diversifying regional economies.

“This is our number-one priority – getting economic growth back into this region. This is our number-one project – demonstrating, contributing, and articulating this post-IMF Caribbean in which to have sustainable economic growth,” said Beckles.

Metry Seaga, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association, noted that the UWI initiative comes at a most apt time given the emergence of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution and what it will mean for Jamaica’s manufacture and export sector.

He told The Gleaner that he was pleased that The UWI has seen it fit to endeavour to break the mould and become a true leader in innovation, capable of making the leap from the university and into industries.

“It is an absolutely brilliant strategy here. Industries need research, and there is nowhere better than our universities capable to deliver the necessary brainpower, acumen, and technical know-how and innovation,” Seaga said.

Senator Aubyn Hill, CEO of the Government’s Economic Growth Council, said that he believes that Jamaica can achieve high-end sustainable economic growth through applied research to rival established powerhouse nations – Rwanda, Finland, India, and the USA – that have used research to lead industry growth and development.

“I believe our businessmen need to become a lot more focused on getting intellectual quality and capacity in their businesses because we have largely been traders. It has not really been a focus, but now ... we have to make sure we have the intellectual and technical capacity to compete against the best in the world and carve out our niches.

“I am, therefore, glad to see this initiative by The UWI and that businessmen and the university will come closer. I would want to see at the end of each year that big businesses will put aside some money from their profits to give to the robotics programme or whatever engineering programme at whichever university in the Caribbean,” Hill said.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com