Jamaica cannot do without Caricom, says UWI vice chancellor

(Jamaica Observer) Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Prof E Nigel Harris has dismissed suggestions that Jamaica or any other country in the region should pull out of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and pursue its development on its own.

“I think it is short-sighted, this idea that we can get in our separate corners, this notion that these small entities can be viable by themselves, is not a tenable idea,” Prof Harris said.

Prof Harris, who was addressing a meeting of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) in downtown Kingston this week, was responding to a concern from JCC director Anthony Gomes that more persons were expressing the view that Jamaica should pull out of Caricom.

Gomes had called on the university to lend its voice to the debate and state clearly whether or not a break from Caricom should take place.

In response, Prof Harris pointed out that Caricom has only five million people, which is small compared to some of the large cities of the world.

“…Atlanta, Georgia and its environs has about 45 million people. We would be lost in Shanghai (China),” the UWI vice chancellor said in illustrating the region’s relative size.

Shanghai has a population of about 16.6 million, making it the world 10th largest city.

Prof Harris called on private sector leaders to work along with UWI to make the connections in the region to realise the benefits of Caricom.

“We need to work with the private sector which is better able to create the kind of linkages needed to drive our region forward,” he said.

The university vice chancellor said there were many benefits to membership in Caricom, such as the ability to move capital across the region, education through the UWI and the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), and the work of organisations such as the Caribbean Public Health Agency which seeks to define and respond to the public health priorities of Caricom.

At the same time, Prof Harris, in responding to concerns that the UWI was becoming less of a regional institution, noted that while the same areas of study were being offered on different campuses or territories, courses can be delivered to students across the region by lecturers on any campus through technology. He noted that UWI continues to grow, and now has 47,000 students. Some 17,000 students enter UWI each year out of 30,000 applicants.

He also sought to dismiss the view that UWI relies on government handouts for survival. “Currently, half of the university’s funding is generated from non-governmental sources,” he noted. He urged regional governments to take advantage of the research available on all its campuses to improve industries in their own countries.

For example, Jamaica should tap into research from the St Augustine campus in Trinidad and Tobago to improve agriculture here. “If you as a nation only rely on your own campus, you are missing out on a lot”, he said.



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