Saturday, January 20, 2018

Celebrating the Fiftieth

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

I am always pleased to see so many persons beside the graduands at these ceremonies as it is a welcome indication of interest in the University and the manner in which we mark and celebrate the progress especially of the young people entrusted to our care. All graduations are special to us even though they occur annually. They are times of reflection and congratulation on achievement. There are sometimes moments of sweet sadness as friendships that have been fashioned and nurtured over the years seem to be coming to an end. But I can assure you young graduands that the friendships formed at the University are among the most durable you will ever make.

But this year is special. This is the fiftieth year of the independence of Trinidad and Tobago and it also represents 50 years since we ceased being the University College of the West Indies, a College of London University and became the independent University of the West Indies. This Campus which a year ago celebrated its own jubilee, has marked the anniversary of the Independence of Trinidad and Tobago in many ways. I was taken by the tree planting ceremony with its symbolism of growth and continuity. The Alma Jordan Library mounted an impressive display entitled "Forging the Nation's Identity: Trinidad and Tobago in 1962." The annual Economics conference will focus on the theme "50 years of Managing for Development in an Ever Changing Economic Environment: Lessons learnt and the way forward", and these are only a few of the events which have signalised our commitment to accompanying this country and help it to realise its development objectives.

My own reflection on these two anniversaries takes me back to some of the events that marked the birth of these two entities and to ponder on how their paths are intertwined.

Dr Eric Williams as the first Prime Minister of the newly independent country spoke to the nation on the first day of independence and charged the citizens to see that the small new nation played its part in international affairs and insisted that their first responsibility was the promotion and protection of their democracy which meant more than just the right to vote. He called on them to live up to the slogan "Discipline, Production and Tolerance". He could well have been formulating a slogan for the new University as these are characteristics that should embrace what ought to be part of the academic credo- discipline of thought and practice, production of new knowledge and the tolerance of disparate views.

Dr Williams also spoke at the first graduation ceremony of our new University and his words have echoed with me ever since I heard them first. I quote him:

"Your first responsibility is to your alma mater. Your University came on the scene too late. In conception it was too narrow. It was too rapidly overtaken by the political evolution in the area it served. It grew too slowly. Its period of tutelage lasted too long, but that chequered career, ladies and gentlemen is now behind us".

He returned to theme of democracy and said:

"the goal of the university in this world in which we live should be a university symbolic of the democratic freedoms in the entire Caribbean area".

As I examine the progress and development of our University, of its deliberate efforts to be inclusive, open to and responsive to the several critical comments it receives, internally and externally, I wish to believe that we are striving to be symbolic of Caribbean democratic freedoms.

Dr Williams obviously could not have imagined the changes that would take place in the past 50 years and how the forces of globalisation would sometimes nip away at the democracy he prized and how those forces would force small countries to examine carefully their traditional factors of production. In spite of the presence of natural resources or perhaps because of them there would be increasing dependence on knowledge workers for the kind of production he might have welcomed. This knowledge economy will require much more attention to those products which are the quintessential stock in trade of our University. I refer to the established ladder of data, information and knowledge-all the output of research.

Thus, I was enormously pleased to read a presentation given by our Principal, Professor Clement Sankat, to the Fifth Geological Conference of The Geological Society of Trinidad and Tobago (GSTT) entitled Towards a R&D Culture in Trinidad and Tobago. He emphasised what is clearly an important issue for Trinidad and Tobago in its next 50 years in that it will have to harness the research of our Universities and take advantage of the innovations that derive from them. I referred to this topic at Cave Hill and pointed out that the University, business and government can and must be intertwined and closely engaged to represent a triple helix of innovation. The possibility of this occurring here is enhanced by the creation of the R&D impact Fund which I hope will deliberately and intentionally involve the business sector as an active and equal partner. The fund has been established to support research in six areasóclimate change and environmental issues; crime, violence and citizen security; economic diversification and sector competitiveness; finance and entrepreneurship; public health and finally technology and society.

There can be innovation in all of these areas, and because innovation is always a product of entrepreneurship, I would propose that it should be possible to find entrepreneurial activity in each of the six areas. There is growing realisation in the developed world that the Universities, especially the research Universities such as we aspire to be, must become entrepreneurial institutions or rather institutions that stimulate and value entrepreneurship.