COMMENTARY: The Meaning of a University


By Carlon Knight

The mood is jubilant and resplendent. Glorious is the journey that is hard fought and won. The University of the West Indies – Five Island Campus is now a reality and will welcome students in the fall of 2019. A proud moment for the country and a triumph for expanded opportunity for higher education.

They said we couldn’t do it. Yet amidst the purveyors of doubt, the soothsayers, clairvoyants and mystics – all of whom predicted bad omen after the other – was a people, led by a ruling administration, determined to turn doubt to ash. Indeed, confronting doubt and scepticism is nothing new to our people. They questioned whether we were ready for independence too – yet, here we stand! They said we were incapable of creating sustainable economies that could produce opportunities to feed and clothe our people – until we did! They said free education for children, free health care at our hospital and clinics, and a system of justice based on our own jurisprudence and manned by our own jurists were all but flights of fancy – until we turned fantasy into reality!

We are not new to this. You might be, but we are not. We, who have left the bondage of oppression and built states from the ground up, are not new to this. We can provide opportunities for higher education for our people. We can and we will. Like us, the UWI Antigua and Barbuda campus may not be a perfect entity. Like us, it may be riddled with flaws, shaped in iniquity and formed by sinners, but like us, it too will stand; it too will survive. So we say to those who claimed we couldn’t and we shouldn’t, “thank you.” Thank you for the motivation, thank you for solidifying the determination.

Curiously, the opposition caused me to ponder on the arguments raised. I wondered what is the meaning of a university? Is it bound within its physical location? Contained in the size of its classrooms? What is it that creates the true essence of a university. Immediately, my mind was brought to the inceptions of the University of the West Indies itself. How did it begin some 70 plus years ago? It may surprise readers of this column to note that the UWI’s beginning was, too, humble. In fact, compared to the current structure at Five Islands, the classrooms and structures in boarded, chattel, style furnishings were rather chambers of torture and discomfort than places of learning and study.

However, did the students of that era survive the horror?! They perhaps didn’t go on to become doctors, lawyers, scientists, politicians and even a Governor General? Surely, they must have dropped out in protest. Alas, we know they didn’t, don’t we? We know they, too concerned about the prospect of an education and the thought of a brighter future, were far too focused on their schooling, far too eager, far too hungry. Clearly, It isn’t the walls that make a university, it isn’t the library, nor is it fancy lecture theatres and modern projection equipment. It is the people who make it: the students eager to learn, and the instructors eager to impart knowledge.

Now, fair warning, don’t attempt to trivialize to the point of absurdity. You will find no safe landing with me if you do. This piece does not suggest we keep people in discomfort nor does it suggest we ought not to provide a standard of care sufficient to attract students to attend. That point would be obvious. How else you maintain a competitive business model?  Surely too the UWI brand itself would need upholding. The point is, we must start somewhere. Having made a start, we are now able to expand, grow, develop and mature.

Importantly, nothing so far has made the thought of UWI – Five Islands exclusive too any of the other options put forward. You can do something similar to what is done in many countries – a disaggregated campus structure. Think of the University of London for instance with constituent colleges and schools scattered throughout the city. Why then is it not possible to have a Five Island campus and more buildings at Golden Grove, the old navy base or elsewhere? Well, I foresee one problem – partisan politics. The fact is we continue this antiquated, winner-take-all, nonsense that suggests good ideas cannot be integrated into workable compromises because of ‘upmanship’. It will take sober minds and hard work if this campus is to become a sustainable and workable reality. Well, it needs to end – and quickly. A point that is more underscored by the lukewarm reception of regional counterparts who have not been bubbling over with joy and elation at this development. But never mind that, in the spirit of each endeavouring, all achieving we will succeed – the future of our children depends on it.



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  1. Thank you for this focus and neutral commentary. The university is not about politics, it’s about the youth and residents of Antigua and Barbuda. UWIA&B will also be accessible to residents of other regional countries seeking a higher education, and will provide jobs for professionals and administrators. Its not about party or personalities but future opportunities.

    • Sorry to deliver the reality to you, but if it wasn’t for politics, there would be no UWI-Antigua campus. That is just a fact. It is also a fact that PM Browne (whether you like him or not) is the one that made this possible.

      Living in some alternate reality that says that politics or public policy doesn’t matter is just obtuse and illogical. Even top professors at world-leading universities will tell you that higher education initiatives are almost always a function of political-will in countries that build and fund these universities.

  2. I am scratching my head still trying to figure out what the purpose and meaning of this commentary is. I am not sure if the commentary is meaning to be supportive of UWI-Antigua or not.

    Anyways, I am very proud of UWI-Antigua and the campus looks great actually (in the picture), it looks clean, modern, and ready for occupancy. I really hope UWI offers Masters and PhD’s degrees in Antigua ASAP.

    I really hope UWI itself steps up with financial contributions and doesn’t just ‘mooch’ off the generosity of our government. The governments of the other OECS countries should be contributing financially to this campus as well.

  3. I welcome and I’m very proud that UWI-Antigua is here right in our backyard. Now we have our own university. The next step now we need to put a national pay scale listing, by education type, in place for people who held these higher education in degrees and PhD’s. It would be hard for someone spending thousands of dollars to get a degree or PhD and employers are not willing to pay for what you worth (education and experience). Remember, it is not everyone who will be entrepreneur some will be employees.

  4. Beautiful commentary including the history of when UWI started and the idea of satellite campuses. Hoping the right administrative personnel and financial supports are put into place for the up keeping and sustainability of this institution. Wondering if those who opposed with that much bitterness are doing so because originally the concept was for a secondary school? Be the matter as it may UWI A&B must survive for future generations.

    • Ah MRS. ARINDEL you a drop words fah? Hopefully in time her bitter, angry, negative medication will wear off. For 17 years she worked at an institution and didn’t try to effect change. Instead she now a criticize and lambasted the same institution because her PARTY FAILED to advance the human resource development of Antigua and Barbuda.

      Just like State Insurance and WIOC, the UPP failed to “seal the deal” and work in the best interest of the country.

  5. Frying eggs before the oil is hot will cause it to scramble or stick. Let’s see how things go in the next 5-10 years, hopefully it would have graduated many individuals with PhDs .

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