Research, enterprise and impact
WI research in action
The following are excerpts from the speech presented by Prof Clement Sankat, pro vice chancellor and campus principal, at The UWI Symposium on Research, Enterprise and Impact on Wednesday October 2, 2013 at The Learning Resource Centre, St Augustine Campus.
My job today as campus principal is quite straightforward. In fact, this is one of the few times I can say this, as so often it can be complex, demanding and indeed challenging. But this afternoon is different — not only because we are hosting a symposium on a topic I feel very passionately about, but also because we have some of the best minds of our country and region right here in this room. So I have no doubt that by the end of this symposium, it would be clear to all, the valuable contribution that the UWI, St Augustine campus, and our UWI have made and continues to make to our society, through the hard work of dedicated researchers across our seven faculties.
The work speaks for itself. In fact, a recent analysis of the performance of the GORTT projects approved between 2006 and 2009 showed that the 48 projects reviewed had a number of achievements — more than 136 articles in peer-reviewed journals, seven books, 12 book chapters and other scholarly outputs like MPhil/PhD students trained, the attraction of new, additional external funding etc. Good research attracts more support. Our analysis also revealed that UWI St Augustine researchers who received GORTT grants were producing comparable academic outputs with considerable less research funding. For example, in the US and Canada, estimates of 0.57 and 0.92 publications per US$100,000 have been reported. We have found that from the previous GORTT grants, we achieved 8.5 papers per US$100,000 spent.
This is a very noteworthy accomplishment that is testament to the resourcefulness, innovativeness and productivity of our researchers. It also speaks to spending on Research & Development in the developed countries, and the real pittance that is spent here and in the region. But today’s symposium on “Research, Enterprise and Impact” is about much more than funding for research, it is about The UWI St Augustine campus’ contribution to society and to advancing national and regional development.
Creating and sharing knowledge
The mission of the university in contemporary Caribbean society has become more diverse and all-encompassing over the decades. It includes teaching, learning, innovation, entrepreneurship, consultancy services, knowledge transfer, public engagement, etc. But the central pillar, which remains constant, is the university’s commitment to the creation and dissemination of knowledge and its responsibility to society.
Whether it is perceived as a commitment to “develop the life of the mind” (Saiydain 1965), “the spirit of truth” (Badat 2010), “a culture of conscience” (Scott 2003), “democratic citizenship” or “the cultivation of humanity” (Nussbaum 2006), society looks to the university to “uphold and transmit the norms, values, attitudes and ethics that are the foundation of strong democracies, healthy civil societies and cohesive cultures” (World Bank 2002). This is a major responsibility. It is not one that can be curtailed or overlooked even in times of financial austerity: for building the human and social capital of our country and region as well as creating the knowledge and understanding of ourselves and our environment, are investments that will take us on a positive development path while creating better, more sustainable societies.
This is why, as campus principal, I am so passionate about knowledge, about research and about protecting the autonomy and the financial ability of tertiary institutions of higher education to conduct research; and research across a range of areas — the humanities, law, natural sciences, medical sciences, social sciences, engineering, agriculture. While directed research is also important to provide specific solutions through research application as we have been supporting through the Research Scheme of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (2006-09) and the more recently created Research and Development Impact Fund (RDI Fund), there must be a balance in order to support intellectual freedom and scholarly inquiry, both hallmarks of great universities.
We must be careful not to let current trends in the market economy cause us to view knowledge exclusively as a commodity, or to let donor funding skew research agendas too much in a particular direction. While this may contribute to economic development, it could at the same time create gaps and imbalances in the broader knowledge base of the society. This goes against the very essence of the mission of a university. At the UWI St Augustine campus we are very cognizant of this. This is why it was not until after much consultation with our staff, students and stakeholders, that we arrived at a consensus on the six priority thematic areas of the RDI Fund, which would be relevant and responsive to national and regional development and at the same time, allow room for scholarly inquiry.
Building a world class university
Jamil Salmi, when he visited us last year, reminded us that building a world class university requires three main components: steady finances, great talent and good governance; all three are equally important. In all that we do at the UWI St Augustine campus, we have kept this firmly in our minds. As we advance Research and Innovation as a pillar of our UWI Strategic Plan 2013-2017, we continue to work at building researcher capacity, staff and student engagement, increased dissemination of knowledge, dedicated funding for research, and recognition of our outstanding researchers through forums such as this one, and our research awards ceremony held just last year.
However, while other universities, for example in the UK and the US, are focusing on research and research impact from a measurement perspective, looking at quantitative metrics for research outputs, research productivity and research impact, we at UWI St Augustine have chosen to focus on impact and metrics, yes, but more so to focus on people and processes.
Research for Development
Academic impact is a natural consequence of outstanding scholarship — peer-reviewed journal articles, publications, citations, thesis, high-level graduates etc but transformative change in society can only come about through stakeholder engagement and adopting the mindset and methodologies that help to ground the work of a researcher in the reality of specific groups in society.
So while we encourage our researchers to excel and to publish in internationally recognised, high-impact journals, we must also support our own regional academic journals and publishing houses, ensuring rigour in their standards. While we promote scientific investigation, we must not ignore the importance of the university as a space for unbridled intellectual debate to inform public opinion; as a repository of indigenous knowledge about the Caribbean; and as an institution that cultivates a sense of civic responsibility among citizens.
The Freedom To Explore & Discover
As the president of Harvard University, Drew Faust, once said, “an overly instrumental model of the university misses the genius of its capacity”. It misunderstands the nature of the enterprise. We do not wish to make this mistake. We must allow also for freedom to explore, to discover. And while the mission of universities internationally may be dynamic, complex and continuously evolving, the UWI St Augustine campus is steadfast in its commitment to research and knowledge creation and dissemination. This is a central component of our university’s mission and one that must be preserved at all cost.
This Symposium on Research, Enterprise and Impact would not have been possible, were it not for the hard work , dedication and support of several individuals and organisations. To this end, I would first like to extend heartfelt thanks to the Hon Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training, the ministry and its staff and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for its continued support for our campus. I would also like to thank the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago for their generous sponsorship of our Research Expo 2013. NGC has demonstrated to Trinidad and Tobago that they value research and scholarship in advancing a society. I would also like to extend special thanks to all our moderators, discussants and presenters who readily agreed to participate in this symposium to share their research, experience and expertise with our wider campus community.
Further information on this symposium,
the projects featured, presentations delivered, as well as bios for the researchers, moderators and discussants can be found on our website at: www.sta.uwi.edu/researchexpo