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At last – A university for the Eastern Caribbean
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At last – A university for the Eastern Caribbean

UWI Graduation St. Augustine Campus

Last month, the University of West Indies opened a campus in Antigua and Barbuda, the first UWI campus located in the Eastern Caribbean. Ariana Joseph, 19, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Antigua and Barbuda, says for many years, the notion of a university campus for Antigua and Barbuda had been proposed by the major political parties. Establishing the UWI Five Islands Campus is the culmination of a long-held dream.

The existence of Micro College, Cooke College and Spring Gardens Teacher Training College as early as the 1800s demonstrated that Antigua and Barbuda had the desire and the capacity to run higher education institutions. The emergence of the Antigua State College in the 1970s served as an indicator of bigger things to come.

During the United Progressive Party’s first term, the Minister of Education called on the government to approach the University of the West Indies (UWI) with a proposal to establish a campus in Antigua and Barbuda.

The campus would serve the 10 countries and territories that span the eastern reaches of the Caribbean Sea—Antigua and Barbuda, Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and The Grenadines, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Martinique and Guadeloupe.

The quest for the realization of the dream took on greater urgency in the 21st century and the idea of a ‘University of Antigua and Barbuda’ started to appear in various political manifestos. However, some skeptics began to raise questions on issues such as quality assurance and accreditation.

Although the proposal was adopted by Antigua and Barbuda’s Cabinet, it faced opposition from some members of the ruling party and the Cabinet. During the second term of the same administration, a committee was established to consider the matter. A report was commissioned, but nothing came of it.

When a new administration came to power, they decided to address the matter of a tertiary institution as a matter of urgency. Instead of focusing on the concept of a national institution, it pursued a pan-Caribbean vision.

The new administration took into consideration the challenges that an entirely new institution would pose. Some of these challenges included proper accreditation, quality assurance, faculty, and the costs of starting a university from scratch.

The sentiment was that these and other issues would be addressed if the institution came under the UWI brand. After all, UWI is among the world’s top higher education institutions.

The decision was to focus on an institution that was indigenous to the Caribbean. Thus, the government approached UWI, asking the institution to consider establishing a fourth campus in Antigua and Barbuda. UWI already has campuses in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados.

UWI’s new Five Islands Campus in Antigua and Barbuda

Plans almost stalled when there was lack of agreement on where the new institution would be located. The proposed site and structures had been earmarked for a new secondary school. UWI found that the requirements for the establishment of the new campus had been satisfied.

The new campus kicked off with the School of Health and Behavioural Sciences, the School of Management, Sciences and Technology, and the School of Humanities and Education.

At the official opening of the Five Islands Campus in September, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne is quoted as describing the day as a glorious one in the country’s history.

The Prime Minister said the campus would broaden tertiary education opportunities, pointing out the direct correlation between education and economic development.

A World Bank study found that attaining tertiary education in St. Vincent and the Grenadines reduces the chance of being unemployed from 30 percent to 10 percent. In St. Lucia, skills mismatch is a major problem. While 44 percent of job openings require tertiary education, only 7 percent of job seekers have been to university.

The new institution should help address such issues, contribute to building intellectual capital and impact both the private and public sector.

Sir Hilary Beckles, UWI’s Vice Chancellor, said that for the 40 years he had been in higher education, there had always been an expectation that one day the Eastern Caribbean would have a UWI campus. The question was which prime minister would be the first to express interest. We Antiguans and Barbudans are proud that our prime minister was the first to raise his hand.

Photo Credit: University of West Indies (UWI)

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About me: My ambition is to become a cardio-thoracic paediatric surgeon. In preparation for this, I have commenced undergraduate studies focusing on a double major in biology and chemistry. Once I have completed my undergraduate studies, it is my intention to obtain a medical degree, pursue research studies in genetics, and eventually establish a medical services centre. I am presently enrolled at Saint Mary’s University, Canada.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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