The recently-released Governance Report on The UWI is an indictment of the region’s premier educational institution on its failure to adapt to a changing world.
The team of experts led by Sir Dennis Byron who were tasked by Chancellor Robert Bermudez with reviewing The UWI’s operations discovered what has long been established—which is that The UWI is an archaic and unwieldy institution that is ill-equipped for the 21st century world of innovative teaching and learning, managerial accountability and operational transparency.
Like other institutions pre-dating political independence, its governance structure is colonial to the core, defined by the ethos of authority without responsibility. Far from being an anomaly, the conflicts of interest identified by the Byron committee are designed to protect entrenched institutional interests by limiting accountability and transparency.
We have noted the emergence of race and class talk around the Byron report but recognise it as an irrelevant distraction from the actual content of the report which deserves to be seriously considered on its merit or lack thereof. Anyone familiar with The UWI would know that its state of crisis is real and intractable and cannot be blamed on personal differences, however deep those may be.
We make these points to emphasise the scope of the challenge in transforming The UWI which would be underestimated at the peril of the future of tertiary education in the Caribbean.
The report’s recommendations for organisational restructuring, cleaner reporting lines and the elimination of bedevilling conflicts of interests make a lot of sense and are consistent with recommendations by previous review teams. However, as we know only too well, diagnosis and recommendations for change are much easier than actual implementation.
Given the wide-ranging and far-reaching nature of the report’s recommendations The UWI’s short horizon for implementation is worrying. Having engaged a cross-section of public interests in preparing the report, one would have expected The UWI to formally release it for public comment before progressing to the stage of implementation. While there have been some commentaries they hardly qualify as public input in a matter of such critical importance to the region’s people.
In sending the report to a committee of UWI Council to review and propose by April 30 which recommendations should be adopted and implemented cheats the process of valuable input from outside The UWI. It also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the crucial role of public opinion in determining the responses of the governments that help to finance The UWI.
As expected, the issue that has grabbed public attention is the report’s explosive recommendation that students’ fees as a percentage of the university’s income be doubled from 20 to 40 per cent across all campuses using a financing model similar to the much-criticised US student loan model. The pivotal role of education in the Caribbean requires that this discussion be far more broad-based and have greater ideological clarity than is evident in the report.
In recommending a steep increase in fees without effective and supportive financial instruments, the Byron report comes dangerously close to abandoning the ideal of educating Caribbean students out of generational poverty.