By Lincoln DePradine
Despite financial challenges confronting the University of the West Indies, it is doing well as a global institution of higher learning, according to UWI vice-chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles.
“The university is in a very good place, intellectually,’’ Dr Beckles told The Caribbean Camera. “Reputation has never been better; it’s more visible, more respected, and we’re ranked in the top 1.5 percent of the best 30,000 universities in the world. That’s a phenomenal achievement.’’
Beckles, who was in Toronto for a recent fundraiser for the UWI, said the university is on a “moral quest to uplift the children of the vast majority’’ of Caribbean people, and to “give everyone an equal chance’’ at success in life.
Thousands of young people, who meet the academic requirements, do not have the financial resources to pursue university studies in the Caribbean, said Beckles. “Therein lies not only social problems, household problems, domestic problems; but also serious issues about public security and the consequences of this,’’ he added.
“We know that when one household produces a university graduate, it changes that household forever and it lays the foundation to lift that family out of poverty.’’
Beckles was one of more than 450 people that attended the 14th annual “UWI Toronto Benefit Awards’’ at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Money from the yearly event – more than $3 million in total – so far has benefited 800 UWI students who have received scholarships.
Scotiabank, which has provided $75,000 in annual sponsorship of the scholarship program, will raise the amount in 2024 to $100,000, Jamaica-born Anya Schnoor, an executive vice president of the bank, announced at the fundraising gala and awards.
UWI, now celebrating its 75th anniversary, has a student population that is spread across its various island campuses. It also has partnerships with other universities in North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe.
The University offers certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in culture; creative and performing arts; food and agriculture; engineering; humanities and education; law; medical sciences; science and technology; social sciences; and sport.
The Toronto Benefit Awards have become a “national institution’’ and are building on a “remarkable alliance’’ between the Caribbean and Canada, especially the City of Toronto, said Beckles.
“We have had this 75 years of partnering between the government and people of Canada and the emergence of our University of the West Indies. On all of our campuses, the footprint of Canada is very strong,’’ Beckles said.
“If you look at the per capita income of West Indians – those who went to Britain, those who went to the US and those who came to Canada –the Canadians have done better, and that’s important. And, Canada has proven itself to be a very reliable partner of the Caribbean region.’’
Beckles, an accomplished playwright, is also author of more than 13 books on subjects ranging from Atlantic and Caribbean History, gender relations in the Caribbean, popular culture and sports development.
“The West Indies cricket team was established in 1884 and the West Indies cricket team went on its first international tour in 1886. Its first international tour was to Canada, and the first match overseas, which the West Indies team played, was against the Toronto Cricket Club,’’ said Beckles. “We were defeated. So, the history shows that the first defeat ever inflicted upon the West Indies cricket team was inflicted in Toronto by Toronto cricketers.’’
In 2013, Beckles was selected by Caribbean Community leaders as the inaugural chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, whose mandate is coordinating the region’s policy positions on the global reparatory justice conversation; and to globally promote reparations for native genocide, African enslavement and colonization.
“Ten years ago, everyone thought we were crazy, but now it’s a global conversation,’’ Beckles responded, when asked about the work of the Reparations Commission.
“All over the world, people are speaking about reparations. We did predict it was going to become the number one political movement in the world and it has become that.’’