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Academic diversity a priority

By George Alleyne

Following is the conclusion of the address by UWI Chancellor Sir George Alleyne at the university's recent graduation ceremony at its St Augustine campus. The first part of this address was published in yesterday's Express.

Part of the problem we face in universities is the belief that entrepreneurship relates only to the commercialisation of knowledge and somehow this is contrary to the selfless pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. This thinking smacks of the ideas of Cardinal Newman and is not appropriate for the modern academy. Entrepreneurship can be found in all parts of academia and is complementary to the critical thinking that is or should be our norm. Thus I was pleased to learn that principal Sankat organised for the first time this year an "entrepreneurship boot-camp" in which persons from various disciplines were introduced to the need for this way of thinking about change. I wish to thank the National Entrepreneurship Development Co. Ltd. (NEDCO) for supporting this development and hope it becomes a regular feature of campus life. I also noted the UWI/WIPO seminar on the management of intellectual property. I hope this kind of thinking will so permeate the university that every student will know the elements of a business plan before graduating.

There is no shortage of new discoveries in our university and no shortage of possibilities for entrepreneurship and innovation. I wonder how many of you know the story of research on peppers—yes, peppers — done here. I learnt from an article in UWI Today, the excellent campus magazine, entitled "Two Trini peppers battle for hottest title". The pepper called the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper captured the title of the hottest pepper in the world in 2011. But a few months ago the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper set a Guinness World Record for hotness. It was about seven times hotter than the average chili pepper.

So Trinidad and Tobago has not only the world's champion javelin thrower, it also has the world's hottest pepper! It is research done here that has traced the origins of these strains of pepper and is pointing towards developing high yielding disease-resistant varieties that can impact the world market which ten years ago was worth about US$1.76 billion. It will need the other two strands of the helix—business and government —to ensure that this new knowledge does generate the kind of economic value proposition that benefits the Trinidadian pepper growers.

I was also pleased to learn that one of this campus' outstanding units—the Cocoa Research Unit—is celebrating its 50th anniversary, although its legacy goes back to 1930 as the Cocoa Research Scheme and it has supported cocoa not only in this country, but globally as well. It is the custodian of the International Cocoa Gene Bank, the largest and most diverse collection of cocoa in the world.

This collection consists of over 2,400 varieties of cocoa and the germplasm and information regarding the varieties are shared with the world's cocoa-producing countries. It supports local, regional and international training and research. I am told that Trinidadian chocolate from local cocoa are among the finest in the world.

Research and innovation are the stock-in- trade of universities and other institutions of higher education and there is frequent debate as to the attitude of the UWI to the development of other institutions of higher education in the region. UWI cannot and must not try to provide all the trained persons needed. I was pleased to see our vice-Chancellor proposing a profound analysis of tertiary education in the region with a view to rationalising the varied offerings. In this context I have two main concerns. First, I look to the day when there will be in fact a functioning Caribbean system for accreditation of all such institutions.

The second concern is with what is called academic drift, which refers to the tendency to change the focus of institutions particularly concerned with technical and vocational training to becoming institutions that embrace the full range of academic disciplines. I believe that differentiated educational systems can provide for students with different and varied skill sets and aptitudes and offer them a successful life. A Brazilian professor commented to me recently, with special reference to his country of course, that academic diversity is critical for all societies. It offers different alternatives for entry into higher education and indeed favours social mobility. I sincerely hope that our countries resist resolutely the temptation to create and sustain one single category of higher education, but instead pursue the more functional and nationally appropriate diversified system.

Let me now congratulate you young graduands and make a request I make every year. I do not wish to put it too strongly, but you have an irrevocable responsibility to this university.

There are some who would wish to deny it, but the contribution of the people of the Caribbean and specifically those of this country to your education to date is a fact of which you must be cognisant. The principal return I ask of you is that you be good ambassadors for the institution and join those of your alumni who continue to make us proud and certainly make me proud to say that I am a graduate of this institution. Please get to know your alumni organisation and please continue to show interest in what is done here.

I also wish to thank your parents and loved ones who join with you here in the celebration of this passage. I hope they are pleased with you and share with us of the administration some of the pride we feel at seeing another group of young men and women take up the challenges of a new kind of life. We like to think that they are much better equipped because of the tools they have acquired here.

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