A win on many levels

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After what appeared to be much hand-wringing and reservations, particularly on the part of the UWI folks from Barbados, Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), was able to announce yesterday, that the dream of a fourth landed UWI campus in Antigua and Barbuda is a reality. Bravo!

By any measure, this is a win. It is a win for diverse and sundry vendors and service providers who will be able to ply a brisk trade in meeting the needs of the students and faculty. We believe that many new businesses, house and car rentals, and other amenities will spring up in this new university town. It is difficult to quantify at this time, but we subscribe to the thinking in some circles that the Five Islands UWI campus will be an economic boon to our fair state.

It is also a win for the embattled Minister of Education, Michael Browne, he who has been strangely missing and silent ever since his eBooks calamity and the prime ministerial smack-down over his Global Ports objections. And as if that were not low enough, when the good minister finally reappeared and opened his mouth, it was to clownishly utter the nonsense about some alleged threats to his safety in St. Kitts. His utterances, have been widely disseminated on social media, and they are so astoundingly silly, that we will not sully the pages of this good paper with them. Suffice it to say, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts, Dr. Timothy Harris, has vigorously and categorically denied Minister Michael Browne’s fanciful claims.

Of course, with the reported collapse of the ceiling at the Antigua State College earlier this week, and the dreadful conditions at Pares Secondary School, as recently reported by a disgusted parent, the good Minister of Education and his colleague, Mr. Lennox Weston, the Minister of Works, have much work ahead of them. Mind you, Pares Secondary School and the Antigua State College are not the only schools with crumbling infrastructure and other issues that do not make for an optimal learning environment. We can only hope that the good Minister of Education will use this big UWI win to pick himself up from the floor and address the myriad issues that plague education in our fair state. In the name of all that is good, Mr. Minister, quit the jestering and do right by our children.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hyram Forde, the head of the Antigua State College and the rest of the team that was instrumental in the nuts and bolts of this Five Islands UWI effort, deserve a salute for doing whatever it took to move from conceptualization to fruition. Congratulations are certainly in order. And by the way, we cannot forget the many teaching opportunities that will become available with the opening of this new institution of higher learning.

Then there is the sense of accomplishment that our Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, must be feeling. He staked everything on bringing the fourth landed UWI campus to our blessed shores, and left no stone unturned in putting the prerequisites (eg: a windfall tax) into place to support it. Actually, when it appeared as though the UWI dream might wither on the vine, due to the recalcitrance of Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad, our PM defiantly, and with more than a hint of frustration, declared that with or without UWI, there will be an institution of higher learning at Five Islands. Such was his resolve. We salute him.

We here at NEWSCO have always been in the vanguard of expanded educational opportunities for our children – they are the men and women of tomorrow, and to the extent that UWI Five islands will provide those expanded opportunities, that is an enormous win. We had reservations about the location, and the commandeering of the Five Islands Secondary School building. We also had misgivings about the seeming haste with which the administration was going about the whole thing. You see, this administration has a history of thoughtless ‘haste-make-waste’ mistakes. They do things with much sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, then when the doodie hits the fan, they declare, “Oops! Our bad! It was a mistake, but don’t worry; we will fix it ex post facto!” Yes, this administration’s track record does not inspire confidence. Not to mention the sense shared by many that this UWI Five Islands initiative was all a big personal vanity project.  But what do we know? The UWI experts, the UWI exploratory team that came out to conduct the feasibility study, are satisfied that we have what it takes to make a go of this epic effort.

 Actually, the UWI vice chancellor, in pronouncing his blessing on UWI Five Islands, had this to say, “I am honoured to report that the [UWI] Chancellor, Robert Bermudez, and the Council of the University of the West Indies have formally approved the establishment of a campus of the University of the West Indies in Antigua and Barbuda, within the wider context of the country’s membership of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States . . . In addition to serving the specific development needs of Antigua and Barbuda, it will provide a hub to enable the greater participation in the development agendas of the OECS by the University of the West Indies . . . In recent decades, several studies have shown that the University of the West Indies has underperformed within the OECS sub-region. The nations that constitute this integrated community are founders and original charter members of the university. However, they have not had the benefit of full access to the university’s brand, that is theirs, within national and sub regional development strategies . . . The OECS has remained a part of our family that is in urgent need of the service, long considered a norm in countries that have had the financial resources to fund landed campuses. . . .While, in recent years, the OECS registered amongst the highest rates of economic growth in the region, the University of the West Indies has remained dissatisfied with the level of its contribution to the development of the higher education and professional training sectors . . . The OECS registers the lowest rates of youth tertiary education enrolment in the Caribbean, and indeed the hemisphere. This unacceptable circumstance is reflected in some of the highest youth unemployment rates in the region. . . Together, they constitute a real threat to sustained development in the sub-region. The UWI community, long concerned about this reality within the OECS family, welcomes this glorious moment that provides it with an opportunity for corrective action.” Very well said, Sir. We concur.

The UWI folks have done their due diligence, and they are obviously quite pleased to declare the dawn of a new day of expanded educational and other opportunities here in our fair Antigua and Barbuda. We trust their good judgment! And yes, we have every confidence in Sir Hilary Beckles, one of our finest thinkers. Again, kudos to all!  Our children win! And may the good Lord continue to bless the effort!

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