An historic signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) took place yesterday between Universities Caribbean (UC) and the Agence Universitaire De La Francophonie (AUF) also called the International Organisation of La Francophonie.
The joint initiative hopes to bolster higher education in the Caribbean as it faces unprecedented challenges brought on by the pandemic and to also strengthen ties between the anglophone and francophone speaking countries within the Caribbean region.
The virtual ceremony of the signing hosted by UC in partnership with the University of the West Indies’ UWItv, was represented by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles—President of UC and Vice-Chancellor of The UWI and Professor Slim Khalbous, Rector of AUF and former Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research (Tunisia), who both affixed their signatures making the agreement official.
During his presentation, Beckles said it was more crucial now than ever, for the future of higher education to be examined.
He said it should be clear to all that a one Caribbean approach to all the region’s developmental challenges was indeed the correct approach.
“For sure, Universities Caribbean, intends to integrate the higher education sector across the region, linguistics traditions, colonial and imperial traditions and to suggest that despite this diversity of historic experience and contemporary experience, the Caribbean is really an integrated civilisation, with a shared heritage and a common future,” said Beckles.
He said it was in this regard and through the signing of the MOU, UC sought to make whole what was fragmented and to integrate what has been disintegrated and to allow a Caribbean voice to emerge with respect to finding solutions to its indigenous challenges.
Beckles said the bouts of economic challenges the Caribbean had faced— 1990s economic recessions and the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 to the now devastating impact of the new novel coronavirus, have all imposed a severe shock upon the sustainable development of the region.
He said the Caribbean was one of the most open social and political spaces in the world, which had been the convergence of global civilisation and reflected the ideal of the multi-racial society and the journey to multicultural democracy; therefore it was indeed also a model for world development.
He said the path to recovery and from economic decline had long been recognised in the areas in which the universities had a special role to play.
He pointed to the revolution of science and technology now exemplary in the areas of innovative entrepreneurship and professional skill development as the world had progressed to an era of digital economies.
Beckles noted all these areas called forward a special role for higher education and professional training in all of its dimensions, making this era time for universities to rise to its full capacity to enable their communities to thrive. However, at the same time, it was also an era of vulnerability for universities.
He said in the Caribbean had suffered largely because of its colonial experience and its challenges with nation-building against the background of inadequate competitiveness which saw a struggle with enrolment and representation in higher education.
Referring to UNESCO’s statistics, Beckles pointed out the Caribbean had the lowest enrolment in higher education in all of its diversities in respect to the age cohort—18-30-years-old.
He said this should be noted as significant as a country’s potential is effectively expressed in terms of the percentage of its population that has had the benefit of higher education, professional training, and skills development.
When this is not so, according to Beckles, the inadequacy of higher education participation has a direct link to the stagnancy of economic transformation and the movement toward social justice.
He said the alliance between UC and AUF, begins a new way forward in strengthening the role of university research and social and economic development.
“Together we would make sure that the pedagogy of the academic community is vital in shaping the movement to social justice and social equality across the Caribbean. This is the moment for the universities of the region to rise and represent the intellectual missions as nation builders, committed to human advancement at its finest.”