UWI a CARICOM integration leader

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In order to assert themselves in the forefront of CARICOM integration, University of the West Indies academics must make their messages clear and easily understandable for both regional decision-makers and ordinary Caribbean citizens.

This is the view of Chancellor Emeritus, Sir George Alleyne, who has said that the time is now for the 70-year-old UWI to emphasize its leadership role in Caribbean Community integration, and to speak loudly with a strong voice.

Professor Alleyne, who retired after leading this Caribbean institution for 14 years ending in 2017, earlier this month subtly chided academics of the university that sprawls across the region on residential campuses in three territories and an Open Campus with 16 centres for not presenting information in a manner that would gain a buy-in by CARICOM leaders and the average citizen.

He said the effectiveness of messages from UWI depends on the validity of information presented, and “how the data are framed. Many times we do not succeed in having issues gain traction because of the way in which they are framed”.

“We are fortunate in managing two of the most important aspects of [integration] – education and health. These things touch all the Caribbean people together,” Sir George said, adding, “That is one of our roles, to articulate very clearly, openly and loudly to the public as a whole that these are the things that make for integration, these are the things that should be addressed in terms of the integration process.”

Sir George who became a Professor of Medicine in 1972, chose UWI’s two-score-and-10 birthday observance on September 5 to impress upon academic colleagues the need for clarity in their messages to motivate both regional decision-makers and the common citizen as he delivered an anniversary lecture on The Perception and Place of Health in Caribbean Integration.

Anniversary celebrations were held in the Cave Hill Campus Henry Fraser Lecture Theatre. Fielding questions following his delivery, Sir George, a surgeon, had responded to Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Dr Kenneth Connell’s enquiry on where UWI sits in the vehicle moving towards Caribbean integration.

Making clear his belief that UWI is not in the driver’s seat towards that goal because Governments are at the wheel, Connell asked, “Are we front seat passengers directing the driver? Are we back seat passengers having academic discourses, trying to almost drive from the back seat or, are we not really inside the vehicle at all, but we’re just mechanics responding when it stops working?”

Sir George, who served two four-year terms as Director of the Pan-American Health Organization and two seven-year terms at the helm of UWI, said, “I think the university does have a major role to play,” and noted “a good university has three basic functions: service, teaching and research”. Regarding UWI’s functions of service and research, he said it should “articulate the view loudly, publicly [and] often that it’s not only the governments that have responsibility for the integration process”. Positing that integration of Caribbean people must be the primary focus of the process, he said UWI academics must emphasize the commonality of the people and their health is one such area.

For this reason, he said much of the university’s research findings must be shared with people of the region.

“What is the value of the health of the people of the Caribbean as a whole, not only to keep that information in our archives but to make that information public, available to the Caribbean public.”

Sir George said, “I would like to see some of these issues find expression in our teaching, both in the medical and social sciences that our health is not only about illness… the other dimensions of health being expounded upon must be taught across the board in these institutions.”

Dean Emeritus of the Cave Hill Faculty of Health, Sir Henry Fraser, asked why is it that politicians appreciate the role of education in integration “but [have] taken so long to understand the value of health?”

Stressing the importance of the Caribbean population being in a healthy and productive state and not merely saved from deadly ailments, Sir George said that convincing the leaders on this and other concepts coming out of UWI calls for “‘political entrepreneurs’, people who are of the calibre to gain attention both in a popular and a political arena when they articulate a particular problem”.

He said it comes down to “the whole issue of framing and how things get framed… how you approach heads of government… what should you ask of them, etcetera”.

These urgings by a regional ‘Champ’, who has led the way in education and health, for the university to adopt the language of the people, who are the real focus of CARICOM’s integration process, and for that leading educational institution to also take persuasive arguments to heads of government may be the wake-up call that the 70-year-old university needs. (GA)

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