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(Barbados Today) – Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, President of the Universities Caribbean and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) is predicting that there will be an increase in persons seeking higher education in the post COVID-19 period.

Speaking during today’s One Caribbean Virtual Forum titled: Assessing the impacts of COVID-19 Designing the Future of the Caribbean University Sector, the historian explained that there is a historical tendency for the demand for higher education to increase during an economic recession.

However, Sir Hilary stressed that while there is the expected increase in persons seeking to further develop their knowledge in skills and academic areas, it is important for governments in the region to see the importance of continuing to invest in education even though there is an unfavourable economic climate.

He said members of the labour force often work towards retooling and reorganizing their skill sets, while several parents make sacrifices for their children to acquire a higher education at a moment of recession.

Sir Hilary said during a recession people are focused on surviving the competition which narrows considerably against persons who are not in the higher education sector.

“On the contrary, when economies are booming and there is significant growth and development people do believe that they could survive and they could do well without higher education. But, I think we will witness that as soon as the shock has been overcome we will actually see a very significant increase in our higher education within the recessionary period, the history shows that.

“But at the same time, I think we should recognize that people do attend university for different reasons, and many reasons. It is not simply a matter of their employability, though I should say that the private sector has recognized that this is the age in which their businesses have to innovate and your chances of having an innovative economy, or an innovative industry or company or enterprise is increased with the employment of graduates,” he said.

Sir Hilary noted that society is looking at graduates to be the innovative drivers of the future and they are sought after even in a climate where there might be an existing unemployment growth.

On that note, the Vice Chancellor said the university must demonstrate to students that the content and the pedagogy of their programmes are in alignment with significant areas of development relevant to private sector growth or public sector commitment to greater service and care for communities.

He added that one of the lessons of COVID-19 is that countries that have highly developed universities that have been engaged in handling the pandemic are the countries that seem to be able to better deal with the COVID-19 containment.

However, he said countries that have not invested in higher education and are lacking good public healthcare systems because they have not invested in medical facilities; are having great difficulty in getting on top of COVID.

“So the lesson then that we have found, certainly in the Caribbean, is that higher education, research, now more than ever, is critical in managing not only the COVID situation but post-COVID strategies will require a greater embracing of the higher education sectors.

“This is a lesson that we are saying to all of our governments in the region, if you want to come out of this recession, if you need to manage post-COVID issues, this is a time when you must invest even greater resources in the higher education sector, teaching and research, and critical issues such as community empowerment and innovation,” he said

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