When I participate in conferences and other public fora as part of my duties as Campus Principal, I often meet persons who say that they are pleased to learn of specific examples of our research initiatives as they were not aware that such research was being undertaken by the UWI St Augustine Campus. Of course, hearing that persons are not aware of our research is disconcerting to me as the head of the institution.
The bigger issue, however, is that if persons who make up the constituents of our public and private sectors and our civil society are not aware of the information, data and knowledge being produced by our research on Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean, then how can we effectively transform our country and region? For while multilateral institutions such as the World Bank have placed universities and particularly, research universities, at the centre of the 21st century knowledge economy, we must keep in mind that institutions do not bring about change and transformation, people do!
As a researcher myself, I am passionate about the transformative power that is inherent in the knowledge creation process. It is through the active engagement of key stakeholder communities, the application of research to solve challenges or to create a new product or service and the commitment and determination of research teams, often working with limited resources, that new inventions are created, new policies formulated and new partnerships for development formed. For the past fifty-three years, the UWI St Augustine Campus has been the central hub of the research activity that has propelled the development of Trinidad and Tobago.
Our research has also contributed to society in ways that are less visible but equally important – through the stimulation of discussion and debate on issues of national and regional importance, by actively interrogating and re-examining ideas, contributing to advancing schools of thought, shaping new perspectives on an issue and influencing thought and practice among our wider Campus community.
Another very important but often invisible (to the general public) dimension of research entails work done in the area of mitigation and prevention in a range of disciplines. For as we all know, a major discovery or crisis tends to attract much more attention than studies that treat with the mitigation or prevention of specific risks or that anticipate negative consequences and recommend an alternate course of action – although this, too, is an essential function of research, particularly in today’s dynamic and interdependent world.
We must also remember that in good universities, there is a nexus between research and teaching that brings new knowledge and excitement into a classroom of young students. At the UWI, we expect all our lecturers to be capable researchers in areas linked to our seven faculties: food and agriculture, science and technology, law, social sciences, medical sciences, humanities and education and engineering.
Research helps not only to inform ways of thinking and working, but also to build internal and external capacity and strengthen institutional, national and regional resilience.
As a developing country, it is only through a sustained effort at building a critical mass of knowledge and expertise in a few key areas, the provision of dedicated resources and the strengthening of linkages with policy makers, industry, manufacturers, civil society organisations and other ‘knowledge users’ that we will be able to create the change that is necessary for development, economic prosperity and increased competitiveness.
With the support of the government of Trinidad and Tobago, the Campus launched the UWI-Trinidad and Tobago Research and Development Impact Fund last year to begin consolidating research and expertise in six thematic areas linked to our national development strategy: Climate change and environmental issues; crime, violence and citizen security; economic diversification and sector competitiveness; finance and entrepreneurship; public health; technology and society: enhancing efficiency, competitiveness, social and cultural well-being. This is in addition to the research conducted by our academic staff members and postgraduate students in a wide range of disciplines across our Faculties.
The subsequent articles that will be published in this column will feature some examples of the outstanding work being carried out by our dedicated researchers at the UWI St Augustine Campus that have led to the generation of new knowledge, policies, products or services that benefit our society or that have impacted how we live in some way.
I hope that you will enjoy reading these articles and feel like you too are a part of our researchers’ respective journeys of discovery and knowledge creation. Understanding the process of research is as interesting and exciting as knowing the end product or result of our research. It is about unleashing intellectual curiosity, looking at new issues or looking at the same issues from a different lens; it is about thinking creatively and critically, about using knowledge for our own development.
If some of the young students who read these articles (and I do hope that you will share the clippings with your children) are inspired by them to become actively engaged in research in years to come, we would have contributed to augmenting the critical mass of expertise we need for a knowledge-driven society. And if knowledge can be compared to electricity in the way that it fuels and connects our knowledge economy, then the UWI St Augustine Campus is the powerhouse that will sustain the future development of Trinidad and Tobago.
We are bringing the findings of our research to you, so that you too are aware, and can use this knowledge to improve lives, increase productivity and competitiveness, enhance services and strengthen our communities. Do look out for a new article every other Tuesday and discover how UWI St Augustine’s research is transforming development.