Newly inducted Principal of the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine wants the university to expand its reach from campus to community.
Speaking during her induction ceremony on Saturday, Belle Antoine said this means taking scholarships to the wider society, making the UWI more inclusive and ensuring the university can bring positive change to the country and the region.
“Importantly, the St. Augustine campus has a key role to play in healing our wounded society. I believe in its power as a unifying force, invoking patriotic consciousness. The voice of the UWI St. Augustine must be neutral, confident, but respectful, probing, but at the same time reassuring because of the knowledge that within our UWI there resides competencies and talents that give hope for the future,” Belle Antoine said.
“We must do more. It is an absolute imperative for us to bring science not just to policy makers, but to the people to have a real impact and help to save the planet and ourselves. The average citizen must identify with it, experience it, believe it,” she added.
Belle Antoine said as a child, she witnessed discrimination against her Black Grenadian mother, while her White father was treated differently.
She said this may have sown the seed for her social activism.
She wants the UWI to be a force for change in society, saying, “For me, the meaning of civil liberties, like equality, resides in economic and social rights enshrined in education, health, work, water and the environment. When the big buildings and grandiose schemes are gone, what will be remembered is the collective humanistic intellectual force that resides in the UWI.”
To make the university more inclusive, Belle Antoine said she has asked her colleagues to “reconsider and refashion” the UWI’s entry requirements.
“In my frame of education for true development, I propose a more progressive approach to expanding access to the underserved and forgotten. We have been insensitive to the socio-economic and socio-cultural constraints, even ethnic and gender to accessing education, especially in all professions. Admissions can no longer be based purely on CAPE results,” Belle Antoine said.
She said society’s failure to ensure there is equity and protection for the vulnerable and marginalized is visible, impacting productivity, crime, families and the economy.
Belle Antoine said there are several partnerships already underway to ensure the UWI becomes more inclusive, including the establishment of an ANSA McAL Entrepreneurship Fund by the Sabga family. She said the university is moving ahead with plans to create a UWI Global Offshore School of Medicine.
“Creating an entrepreneurial culture requires the campus to be agile, leaving behind old ways which have sometimes failed us. Meeting the needs of students and preparing them for this new, more complex world remains a top priority. These are times when the very relevance of university is being challenged,” she said.
Belle Antoine said the UWI’s programmes needed to be “recalibrated” to encourage active and on-the-job learning.
She said the university also needs to address the financial hardships being faced by many students.
“We must have sustainable fees for the campus if we are to survive, but we must also protect our students by speaking more directly with banks, private sector, increasing bursaries and promoting innovative bond arrangements in exchange for financial assistance and loan schemes. I also hope to have closer linkages and communications with government to better understand and serve the national agenda,” she said.
Belle Antoine said while her tenure began at a time of financial hardships, she was confident that the UWI St Augustine would thrive.