Universities play a pivotal and essential role in national development. They do this by producing graduates, providing expert advice and performing relevant R&D to create new products and services thereby facilitating the creation of new companies and employment opportunities. UTT was set up to catalyse the diversification of the economy through the commercialisation of its R&D. It is thus appropriate that the institution, after this initial decade of existence, take a hard look at itself, if it wants to right the wrongs.
UTT labels itself as an entrepreneurial university and this is all fine and good. But for this to be actualised, an ethos of R&D must be engendered at all levels of all programmes. R&D does not only start at the masters' and doctoral levels. It must be inculcated from the diploma through the baccalaureate degrees. Active postgraduate research programmes can have the effect of stimulating research activity at the undergraduate levels which, in fact, provide its feedstock.
The sanitising and reactivation of the School for Postgraduate Studies is thus a matter of great urgency. As alluded to a week ago, the governance policies and processes have collapsed. Sure, there are good researchers at UTT and some good R&D work is being done.
The issue is thus, not the researchers or postgraduate students themselves, but the academic processes and their management in particular, to ensure equity and quality. They must be able to withstand any scrutiny. A cursory examination of what has been taking place will shock, horrify and traumatise any sane and competent academic.
Just as families are the basic building blocks of communities and societies, so too are departments/programmes at a university. The family is sacrosanct as are departments. It is not unexpected for the Board and top management be subjected to the vagaries of national politics but the norm should be that departments are insulated. For this to happen, the governance and operational processes that impact academic appointments and promotions, must be well defined and robust with the requisite checks and balances.
The lack of internal redress mechanisms leads to unhappy and disgruntled academic staff as they perceive that factors other than academic excellence are at play. At UTT, the average staff member is not only unhappy but disillusioned with state of affairs. Universities are very competitive, difficult places to work and it is not unusual to hear of faculty being unhappy when not promoted when they think they deserve it. But as noted above, there should internal mechanisms available to them to can challenge the decision and seek redress.
It is the opinion of most that the concept of and rationale for UTT are both good and further, such a university is needed. In light of this, strenuous attempts, involving staff from both within and without, to review, re-strategise, restructure and re-operationalise UTT should be made. People involved in this exercise should not be viewed through political lens. Rather, competent and committed citizens who can contribute meaningfully should be engaged.
Clarity is needed on the respective roles of UWI, UTT, COSTATT and other the tertiary level institutions in manpower development and R&D. There are clear overlaps and thus some rationalisation is needed. The R&D enterprise, inclusive of commercialisation, needs to be emphasised if the tertiary level graduates are to find meaningful employment. UWI and UTT should seriously consider an R&D consortium.
There are many advantages to be gained from this sort of venture as opposed to the costly duplication of programmes and research efforts. With COSTATT offering similar programmes at the bachelor's level as UTT, there is a clear opportunity for consolidation and or divestment.
UTT has the potential to contribute significantly to national growth and the diversification effort. To bring this effort to fruition, competent, experienced and visionary leadership is needed.
The question "Whither UTT?" should not have as its answer "Wither UTT."