As we embark on this week’s theme, the plenary addresses by the IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva and the World Bank Group President, David Malpass at the IMF-World Bank Annual Meeting this morning (October 15) sounded the dire warning that the world faces a new Bretton Woods moment. This is a recognition of two major factors. The first is that a durable global economy is possible only if the COVID-19 pandemic can be defeated. The second, that sustainable recovery depends on staving off a combined health, economic and hunger crisis by protecting nature, helping the poorest and increasing jobs. The base line message is that a resilient global recovery requires global solidarity. This has been reinforced in the IMF-World Bank sessions at this 2020 Annual Meeting through policies for debt forgiveness, placing emphasis on emergency aid to bolster health systems, boasting human capital with special reference to strengthening education and training, closing the gender gap, investing in young people and digitization with equity. These are vital conditions for University leaders in the Caribbean and elsewhere to balance priorities, invest in the current generation now to meet the needs of the future, thereby achieving a better normal.
This is the context in which to place the International Association of Universities (IAU) webinar, Leading Universities in an Age of Uncertainty, October 6, moderated by Andreas Cocoran, IAU Secretary General and panelists: Manokgethi Phakeng, Vice Chancellor University of Cape Town; Andrew Deeks, President, University of Dublin; and Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor, University of the West Indies. The panelists agreed that the current pandemic has accelerated the future of higher education for enhanced relevance, survival and revising business models while maintaining the mission for research, teaching and innovation. This means that the planning process must be responsive to national policy and embrace collegiate dimensions based on a team approach of collective leadership. These are essential elements on which to base logistical arrangements, unambiguous communications and decision making. The key principles include commitment to the students’ journey within rapidly changing government public health guidelines and an eye on long term ambitions for telegraphing the high value of the University to national, regional and global economic sustainability.
It is clear that the Vice Chancellors of the Universities of Cape Town and UWI were required to take into consideration the importance of poverty and inequality affecting their student populations, resulting in the fact that not all students are able to move online because of lack of resources. The most basic of these are unavailability of laptops, unstable network connections and difficulties to undertake social distancing because of crowded living conditions. At the University of Cape Town, its Center for Innovation and Learning was charged with the responsibility for communicating with key stakeholders including alumni and other donors. It also involved readjusting modules, technical services and getting learning material to students with no or inadequate digital access. But there was another aspect involving both academic and non- academic, administrative and support staff requiring moving offices from campus to people’s homes. Most of these activities require mobilizing resources, compassionate responses and reprogramming budgets within the University, including establishing COVID-19 Emergency Funds.
For UWI the greatest challenge was keeping the University focused on retention of students, supporting continuing students and motivating potential students. To sustain a vibrant student population was another challenge. This is due to the pain and suffering that afflicted many of their of families caused by curfews and economic dislocations compounded by primary/secondary students now doing online learning, competing for the use of the scarce technical resources and physical space. In addition, is the urging of young people, especially girls, not to retreat from education. Notwithstanding these challenges, enrollment at UWI in 2020-2021 is 5 percent higher than in 2019-2020.
In the case of Dublin University, the proactive policy for moving business online created tensions with the faction that supported keeping students on campus. It meant that the efforts of the leadership team needed to placate the gulf between the low and high risk aversions within the system. This resulted in a nuanced approach due to a diversity of responses. These differences between University leadership at Dublin and those at Cape Town and UWI tended to mirror the tensions in the wider society.
Among the most critical factors common to all universities in this discussion, include cohesive and decisive leadership from which emerge lessons learned are as follows:
Sir Hilary Beckles and the New Paradigm
Over and above these lessons Sir Hilary Beckles provided a key refrain by promoting a new paradigm based on "never let a recession go to waste". It is his view that Universities have pivoted within the knowledge economy and therefore constructed their missions to produce students within the prisms of knowledge, science and technology and economic development models. This was predicated on the assumption that the University's role is to stimulate movement from underdevelopment to sustainable development. COVID-19 has upended this. It has laid bare the social inequalities due to the fact that the majority of its community maybe described as marginalized and disenfranchised students. Consequently, the University faces an ethical crisis. Its response must therefore change. The UWI Task Force on the COVID-19 response, for example, became the authentic source for disseminating scientific information, engaging the public and winning their trust. Its membership was drawn from the faculties of medicine, social sciences, business, gender and law among others in a transdisciplinary discourse. This is likely to even usher more multidisciplinary approaches to learning and building a better future.
To vision this better future calls into question a series of issues such as: how to re-arrange, re-programme and re-align activities? Is it a logistical exercise only? What are the implications for financial security? Where to get the required funding? Why must there be a weighting of the allocation of funding that disadvantages tertiary education? Who are the viable partners?
Responses to these questions are important. They hark back to the context of this blog. Besides dealing with the scientific basis of overcoming COVID-19, the primary concerns centre on investing in human capital: education and training, closing the gender gap, young people, digitization with equity. The financing of public universities such as UWI is based on contributions from government, student fees and sponsorships and endowments. Therefore, when higher education is seen as an expenditure, it is among the first items to be cut in a budget crunch. This is contrary to the perspectives of the new paradigm proposed by Sir Hilary, which like the IMF-World Bank sees it as an investment.
It is important to note that Sir Hilary champions an activist University. And it is heartening that Professor Paloma Mohamed Martin, recently appointed University of Guyana’s Vice Chancellor in her inaugural presentation to Council, "Imperatives Now", is in sync with Sir Hilary. The COVID vision in the new paradigm is one of hope, a preparation for the future based on 'a holistic theory of development', 'imagining 2025' and 'going global toward a globalized university'. Indeed, the excitement of Sir Hilary's optimism resonates: "Let's get through this and get to the future"
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.