PM’S SPEECH ON “OUR UNIVERSITIES: CITADELS OF KNOWLEDGE FOR HUMAN ADVANCEMENT”


I am deeply honoured indeed, to have been invited to join the select group of persons on whom Honorary Degrees have been conferred by this august institution.

It is for me a personal encomium, which I accept with a profound sense of humility and gratitude. But moreso, I regard it as a recognition of the great contribution made by thousands of Jamaican and Caribbean nationals to the building and development of this community in Hartford. It is therefore with an overwhelming feeling of pride that I accept this Doctorate in their name and on their behalf.

THE JAMAICAN PRESENCE IN HARTFORD

The original influx of Jamaicans to the Connecticut Valley region was a consequence of the 2nd World War. With many American soldiers off to war, the United States was in need of manpower to fuel the factories and to work the fields. It was to Jamaica that the authorities looked for replacement workers. Thus, around the beginning of the 1940's, young Jamaican men were brought to these areas, particularly Hartford, to work on the tobacco farms.

These Jamaican pioneers were subjected to severe racism, exploitation, and bitter cold. Despite the hardships, these sturdy men persevered and remained focused in accomplishing their goals.

Many of them were humble folk with barely the rudiments of education who came here to work on the farms and in other low-skill jobs. Others were much better prepared.

But all of them were endowed with ambition and determination. They sent their children to school and made regular remittances back home to keep their families going. They exposed Connecticut to the intriguing game of cricket and the shattering sound of dominoes.

Pioneers, such as Collin Bennett, not only gained success in the world of business. He became the first Jamaican to be elected to public office in Hartford.

His work influenced others to venture into public life, such as the current Deputy-Mayor of Hartford, Veronica Airey-Wilson. Several others have become totally immersed in community development and diverse fields of culture.

Today, many of the descendants of those migrants are to be found in the professions, in several walks of life, providing vital leadership in their communities. Many of them have become successful entrepreneurs, contributing significantly to the economic development and social progress of what has now become their home.

On this occasion, we salute them all.

This is the very stuff of human development, and serves to remind us of one of the fundamental purposes of Universities –
to lead the drive for human development;
opening up opportunities for higher education, and by that means contributing to the eradication of poverty;
fulfilling ambitions for human betterment and in so doing, laying foundations for sustained economic and social upliftment.

Mr. President, that the world at the turn of the 21st century is entirely different from that of six decades ago has been so often repeated as to run the risk of being condemned as trite.

The world prior to 9/11 no longer exists today.
Indeed the changes have been so rapid, frequent and cataclysmic that we must neither take them for granted nor ignore their profundity.

It would have taken the first wave of Caribbean migrants several nights and days to travel from our islands to Connecticut.

We are all acutely aware how the rapid advances of technology have altered the flow of knowledge, the speed and modes of communication, the patterns of conducting business and the flow of knowledge.

Significant and revolutionary as these differences have been, we cannot in what is proclaimed to be a new global order, fail to observe the consequences of the fundamental shifts in power relationships – whether by military dominance through the application of technology – or in economic power through the integration of markets.

Both are intertwined, but as we are witnessing, they do not necessarily move in the same direction.

We must all be on full alert and should resist any attempt to establish international relationships based on primitive instincts. This would only fuel global insecurity and breed widespread conflict.
We cannot revert to the dark ages of any single inperium.

The civilizing constraints of customary international law and diplomatic practices must now be fortified. For Jamaica and the Caribbean our only choice is to strengthen our regional institutions, foster solidarity between developing countries, to provide solid support for the United Nations and multilateral institutions.

Mr. President,
We who live in the Caribbean recognise that we have to contend with a world that has changed significantly since the two waves of emigrants arrived in the USA.

The forces of globalisation and the process of liberalisation have led to new technologies, the dominance of large corporate conglomerates, expanded media sources and a vast array of internet connections.

While some of this offers enormous potential for improvements in the lives of our people, there is an unmistakeable downside in the immediate effects on small developing countries such as those in the Caribbean.
For many countries of our region, trade in goods and services exceed 100% of our Gross Domestic Product. As a region, we account only for 0.27% of total world trade.

The terms of our engagement in the multilateral trading system clearly demonstrate that our small countries are making a disproportionate contribution to import growth in the global economy. This is unmatched by our capacity to export or to penetrate global markets. But that is our reality.

Today, global opportunities are unevenly distributed. More than 80 countries still have per capita incomes lower than they were a decade or more ago. The income gap between the fifth of the world's population living in the richest countries and the fifth in the poorest was 74 to 1 in 1997, up from 60 to 1 in 1990 ad 30 to 1 in 1960.

We the people in the Caribbean, wherever we may choose to live, are required to find ways and means to withstand these hurricane force winds.

These considerations compel me to draw to your attention to the importance of emigration in arrangements for trade liberalisation in the Hemisphere and at the global level.

Very small countries such as those in the Caribbean, do not now have the capacity to compete with more developed countries in the trade in goods and in most services.

Given the limits of our natural resource endowment, we must concentrate on the building of human capital in a knowledge intensive market.

And so we seek to accumulate the human capital that would allow us to achieve competitiveness, especially in the export of knowledge-based services. I perceive that in the longer term, we in the Caribbean can become significant exporters in areas such as business and professional services.

Since people always come first, the asset of knowledge must be the focus of our attention. In a competitive global market place, know-how has become increasingly more valuable than capital, land or physical matter.

To earn our way in this environment that accentuates learning and access to information, we in Jamaica have afforded an absolute priority to Education at all levels.from basic and primary through secondary to tertiary.

Through regional collaboration, such as the CXC and the CAPE (the Advanced Level), Caribbean States are working together to facilitate the assurance of quality education for the school-leaving citizens of the region.

The University of the West Indies (UWI) by the Declaration of Grand Anse of 1989 was reconfirmed as a regional body "indefinitely", responsible for preparation of all the skills intended to serve the development of the region.
It was mandated to carry out research of developmental dimensions to inform both public policy and the management of private enterprise. It is there to develop the coping skills required by individual Caribbean citizens to survive in an ever-changing complex globalised world.

In seeking to foster and develop an articulated regional education system, we are utilising the facilities already in existence to forge new modalities that will guarantee to the region constructive, creative, well-educated cadres of skills. These will help to take the region forward, with its already proven capabilities in the exercise of intellect and imagination. All this must embrace fields of science and technology, the social sciences, the humanities and education or any of the various combinations of these which are possible in academia through the multi and inter-disciplinary modes.

In the context of their human development mission, Hartford has several similarities and complementarities with those Universities in Jamaica and in the rest of the English speaking Caribbean. To start with, Hartford and the University of the West Indies are roughly in the same age group, Hartford being over 40 years old, while the UWI is only about a decade older.

The other two Universities in Jamaica – the University of Technology and Northern Caribbean University – are of more recent vintage. The simple point is that all of them are comparatively young institutions, not weighed down by centuries of tradition and should therefore be responsive to change.

As I have earlier asserted, we live in times of very profound change. Our educational institutions, particularly our Universities, should be expected to lead and propel this process, so that the countries and communities which they serve can be at the forefront of the new opportunities and challenges that arise.

A superficial comparison of the academic programmes of the two sets of institutions suggests scope for mutual widening and deepening of academic programmes through cooperation, bringing benefits to students and other areas of the Universities' work.

I would exhort this University to begin a dialogue with those in Jamaica and campuses in other parts of the Caribbean, to explore areas, such as student exchanges, complementary and joint programming, and research collaboration. These should bring mutual benefits.
By way of example, I propose these Universities work together in developing special programmes of training, research and advisory services targeted towards small services providers in the business and professional areas.

This could be of value not only to small business in the Caribbean, but also to other small countries in the Hemisphere.

In so doing, these institutions will have to function in the context of the internationalisation of higher education which has been taking place on an accelerated basis, especially over the past decade.

Internationalisation encourages a process of introducing an international or intercultural dimension into the teaching and research of Universities. As such, it is essentially a process of quality improvement in the work of the University.

The big increases that have been taking place in cross-border delivery of courses, joint research and investment in physical facilities, are no doubt influenced by other factors. These include competition for students, for donor funding, and for revenues in a situation where public funding of higher education has lagged in several countries.

There is also the advent of new non-university institutions in the provision of tertiary education, typically arising from private sector initiatives. These constitute a new source of competition for Universities.

The scale of International Trade in education can be illustrated by the figures that in 2000 exports of education services were worth over USD$10 billion to the USA; USD$3.7 billion to the U.K.; USD$2.1 billion to Australia; and USD$0.8 billion to Canada.

Internationalisation has been taking a variety of forms ranging from student exchanges to the establishment of offshore campuses, the franchising of courses and online delivery of programmes. All of these methods address particular needs in the receiving countries. But the fundamental question remains as to the extent to which these arrangements are sufficiently beneficial to recipient countries and institutions, from the standpoint of enlarging tertiary education capacity on a sustainable basis.

Some critics question the net benefits being secured by the developing countries concerned from international programmes, in the sense that although they may be transferring knowledge to individuals, they are less beneficial in terms of building capacity in the countries concerned. This is particularly the case where the transfer is taking place between developed and developing countries, especially the less developed among the latter.

It is a matter of concern that along side its growth, some institutions in developing countries are in serious difficulties. One recent report on the situation in Africa pointed out that Universities which once served as beacons of hope have been turned into shells of their former selves.
Funding for joint research with institutions in developed countries is on the decline, and the best scientific talent continue to leave in large numbers.

Two recent reports indicate that each year about twenty thousand professionals leave Africa, costing the continent some $4 billion per annum.

It is well known that there are substantial outflows of professionals and para-professionals from the Caribbean, especially in fields such as education and health where we have now to import skilled people from other countries to make up the shortfall.

These constitute the new wave of emigrants. But in a world where movements across national frontiers are irresistible, we have to accept the dictates of the job market. Instead of hoping to escape the flow of talent by a restrictive approach, we should engage in dramatically increasing the trained pool from which these people are drawn.

This suggests that we have a vested interest in promoting bilateral and international programmes so as to provide a sufficiency of skills for the Caribbean and other Nations like the USA which require our special skills.

At the international level, countries are having to deal with the call for rules to govern international trade in higher education as part of the arrangements for international trade in services under the General Agreement for Trade in Services (GATS) that was negotiated in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
We cannot support any move by the WTO to 'commodify' Higher Education and to convert the service into a free scramble for all.

Exceptions should be allowed where institutions in the developing countries are involved either in a relationship with a developed country institution or with one in another developing country.

We are insisting that institutions in member countries, which belong to a regional integration grouping should be given the opportunity to cooperate among themselves in developing their capacities as a region to deliver higher education.

There is a compelling case also for exceptions to national treatment with respect to higher education.
Given our paucity of resources, we cannot reduce our subventions to our local institutions in order to accommodate overseas institutions. The debate on these issues is far from over.

For the immediate period ahead, higher education services should be excluded from the positive list of services for which developing countries will assume liberalization commitments.

We have a considerable stake in winning the fight against terrorism – but if peace is to prosper, we must also fight ignorance, racial intolerance and religious bigotry.

We are cognisant of the benefits to be gained from the technological advances of our age. But these cannot be confined to the rich and the powerful. The poor will not be content to dwell for ever in the misery of hunger, disease and slums.
Throughout the Ages, Universities have been citadels of knowledge for human advancement. Their research and direction must help to make mankind better and contribute to building a world of peace and social justice. The current era requires them to design new ploughshears for peace and prosperity; vaccines and medicines to fight disease; simple computers and equipment to make teaching easier; farming techniques to eradicate famine.

Globalization and liberalization should mean progress for all mankind and not just a few.

It is important that the academic and management staff, as well as the students of this prestigious University understand the new realities which face the people of the Caribbean. It is also important that those of you whose umbilical cord is tied to the Caribbean, recognise that the Caribbean needs your assistance in getting our message heard by those with influence in the corridors of power here in the United States.

This can be advanced by the promotion of greater cultural and academic interaction between the countries of the Caribbean and your University.

I suggest the organisation of a carefully planned Conference which would seek to advance the dialogue and discussions on the role of the Caribbean overseas community in addressing the new and emerging challenges facing the people of the Caribbean.

The inaugural conference should be followed by lecturers and researchers of this University undertaking more regular visits to the islands of the Caribbean, to allow them to contribute to the discourse regarding the policies and programmes which should be pursued as our governments grapple with developmental challenges.

As is noted by well known scholar, Locksley Edmonson,

"Successes in forging a united Caribbean are likely to redound positively on the prospects of Caribbean nationals and cultural sub-Diasporas, forging a greater degree of Caribbean Diasporic unity."

The University of Hartford has managed to advance the academic careers of many students who originate from Jamaica and other countries in the Caribbean. It has shaped the minds of many who have gone on to make splendid contributions in their respective countries. Whether they are descendants of those who came in the first or the second wave, or they are recent arrivals, I am sure the communities of Hartford and those of the Caribbean from which they come have been the better for it.

Once again, let me thank you for the opportunity of sharing these thoughts with you on this occasion and for the considerable distinction you have afforded me.

JIS Social