A campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in South Trinidad was a vision of Professor Clement Sankat — one which he says would transform the southern landscape with immense benefits to the people.
Sankat has been serving as UWI's principal since 2008, his tenure was renewed and until his retirement in 2016 he plans to make his mark on the history of tertiary education in Trinidad and Tobago.
In an interview with the Express at his UWI St Augustine office, Sankat said that when he became principal in 2008 his focus was on three areas: building capacity of the campus, building the reach of the University and building on its quality.
He pointed out that he came to UWI as a mechanical engineering student in 1969 and "to be honest, I never really left,".
Sankat journeyed to Canada to do his PhD and returned to Trinidad right after.
"From 1978 I haven't deviated from my service to the University, my campus, and to my country, I've stayed focused. By the time I retire in 2016, I would have served the University full time as a member of staff for 38 years continuously, a total of 47 years in Trinidad," said Sankat who was born in Guyana.
"These last four years are going to be my final journey at UWI and one that I look forward to brining my entire career and contributions to the University to some level of completion and great satisfaction," said Sankat.
In discussing the government's move to construct a south campus of the University, Sankat said this was the way to go.
"One of the first things I did as principal to the academic board of the campus was to suggest that during my term, we would build another campus, and I am therefore extremely pleased. It took a lot of effort and especially in the last year, that with the very strong support of our government, we are building this campus in South, Penal Debe," said Sankat.
He said a university campus in south was ideal as it was near to the country's second city of San Fernando.
"I think in years to come it would be seen as a very important development initiative for that part of Trinidad and Tobago in the same way when our founding father decided to locate St Augustine campus in the East-West corridor, not far from Port of Spain," said Sankat.
UWI, he said, despite all the controversial reports in the media surrounding the construction of the south campus, has stayed faithful to the process of procurement, integrity and transparency.
Questioned on whether the south campus was long overdue, Sankat said the timing was right.
"I wouldn't say it was very long overdue. In the last 10 years, we have seen this explosion of good quality secondary education in the country, we have seen southern high schools really producing very good graduates, Government schools that never had national scholars are producing national scholars, denominational schools that were not there; so I think the timing is now right," he said.
Sankat said the south campus and the faculty of law will be a flagship for UWI.
He added that it will also become a growth pole for communities in south to flourish.
"This university will become intellectual, cultural and even a commercial hub for that southern entity as St Augustine is. People must never underestimate the contribution that St Augustine made to communities from Mt Lambert, Mt Hope, Curepe, St Augustine, Tunapuna and El Dorado. Can you imagine these areas without the St Augustine campus? The university is not only a beneficiary of considerable support from our government, but it's also contributing to the well being of the communities around us," said Sankat.
The reach of the UWI, said Sankat, has also benefited the people of Tobago.
"I've always had the same fervour for us to develop our campus in Tobago and when I became principal within the first two years, we developed a memorandum of understanding with the Tobago Hospitality Institute and the THA for St Augustine to have a presence in Tobago," he said.
"I am hopeful that the decision of building this integrated campus in Tobago would be made very soon by the Government in which UWI will play a critical part,'' he added.
One of the highlights of his contributions to Tobago, said Sankat, was the launch of the first MBS programme by the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business which offers Tobagonians an opportunity for continuous development.
"Tobago is very special to me. We also signed agreement with a couple of institutions — the Bucoo Reed Trust — to collaborate on scientific issues pertaining to the marine environment and the research of the university in that area is important," he said.
Sankat said he also wants to see hospitality training develop in the sister isle.
"Tobago is a wonderful place to build a sense of training and hospitality in tourism — it's a great place to build an entity that has an element of educational tourism in place," he said.
Sankat also said he hoped that the new Tobago hospital will also become a teaching hospital of UWI students trained in medicine and call aid in the progression of specialist medical education.
The reach of UWI, he explained can also expand into the Caribbean and South American region.
"I have always been pressing for us to reach out to places like Guyana and Suriname," he said adding that post graduate programmes engineering, international relations and business relations are already established there but there is need for intensifying these efforts.
He pointed out further that UWI can also reach out to countries like Brazil, Columbia, Argentina, Venezuela, Panama and Chile.
"We are just on the doorsteps; there's a level of hunger for training of students from these countries," he said.
Turning to the strengthened capacity of the U niversity, Sankat noted that UWI has grown by at least 33 per cent under his watch from 14,000 students to approximately 19,000.
Since free tertiary education under the former PNM administration was introduced through
the GATE programme there has been an increase in the student numbers at UWI.
Questioned on the GATE programme, Sankat said that it was being restructured.
"I imagine as our country becomes more accountable in all respects, GATE has to be revisited," he said.
Sankat added "How is the private sector that is so engaged in university education, how are they growing and thriving?".
He noted that the St Augustine campus continues to attract the best and brightest students from across the country and the region.
"Seventy per cent of the national scholars of this country over the last few years continues to come to St Augustine — we are still attractive and despite enrollment having gone up in such a dramatic way— the entry standards have not diminished, in fact, it is very competitive to get into the programmes ad that's quite a challenge," said Sankat.
He said this worries him to some degree because he wants to see the University open its doors to all students who are capable and who can get into universities around the world.
Sankat said the academic staff was increased to support this growth. Three new faculties were created and the Faculty of Food and Agriculture was re-established.
Sankat said the campus' green and serene landscapes remain untouched even as there are moves to expand the physical space of the University.
Turning his focus to the quality of the university's programmes, Sankat said that as a former dean of engineering he had a fixation on quality and accreditation.
He said many of the programmes at UWI are now accredited internationally and regionally — some for the first time like the area of dentistry.
Sankat stressed that the university, even before accreditation, was one that truly championed quality.
"We will continue for our university to work hard and to be responsive to the needs of our society. Universities today cannot be entities to themselves, Universities today must understand and appreciate that the society wants and respond thereof," said Sankat.