Preparing UWI for the Challenges of the 21st Century: An Interview with Vice Chancellor Sir Alister McIntyre [**Reprint**]
– Black Stalin, Caribbean Unity (1979)
Born in St. Georges, Grenada, Sir Meredith Alister McIntyre is considered one of the Caribbean’s eminent thought shapers and academicians. This highly celebrated Caribbean integrationist and internationalist has served the Caribbean in various capacities, representing the region in a wide range of international forums.
The December 12, 2016 launch of Sir McIntyre’s book, The Caribbean And The Wider World: Commentaries on My Life and Career, has come with great anticipation because of the reservoir of experience he is expected to share. It is also a moment when the region is in dire need of self-reflection. The book chronicles the wide range of Mr. McIntyre’s celebrated career in academia, regionalism and multilateral cooperation. Sir McIntyre assumed the role of Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (Mona, Jamaica) in 1988 serving in this capacity for 10 years.
As a precursor to a review of this timely book, Big Drum Nation hereby publishes the final segment of the interview between Sir McIntyre and Winthrop Holder of the N.Y. Daily Challenge during Sir McIntyre’s stint as VC of the University of the West Indies. This final segment, which is even more relevant today, was published on August 14, 1995. – BDN
‘Not sun, sand and calypso’
In this, the final segment of a three-part interview, Sir Alister McIntyre, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, outlines the 21st century vision for the university which includes cementing ties with the United Negro College Fund and increased collaboration with other universities. In addition to highlighting the success of the university’s Distance learning Facility, which reaches satellite campuses in 14 English-speaking Caribbean nations, Sir Alister also comments on the changing landscape of Caribbean society and call s for a new contract between citizens and their communities. Winthrop R. Holder conducted the interview for the [NY] Daily Challenge.
Holder: In order to facilitate cross-fertilization of ideas and the infusion of new approaches, to what extent does the university employ people who are non-UWI graduates and encourage student and faculty exchanges with foreign institutions?
McIntyre: About 80% of the university is West Indian. And more than half of that 80% did their graduate work outside because our graduate programs are quite small. But as a matter of policy, we want to send people for graduate work outside for at least part of their graduate work—it might be the post-work component. We are developing split PHDs whereby a graduate student can do some of his post-work at UWI and go somewhere else to complete their post work and the foreign institution co-supervise the work. We have quite a number of exchange arrangements in place already. In Canada we have a very good one with the University of Toronto. Here in the States, we had one with John Hopkins University in History, now it’s a bit dormant. But it very much depends on the individual department. So we want to systematize this and negotiate cooperating arrangements that will more or less apply across the board.
Holder: Have any relations been developed with historically Black Colleges?
McIntyre: We are developing arrangements with the United Negro College Fund–the historically Black Colleges. And we are working with a number of them, particularly with Selma College, where we have student and faculty exchanges in the area of women’s studies. We are also working with Medgar Evers College and Texas A&M. And we’ve always done work with Howard University.
Holder: In what other areas of study has this been done?
McIntyre: We have done it in engineering and social sciences and even education. I think that’s the way to go. We are joining a lot of networks.
Holder: Can you explain the University’s Distance learning Facility and its success or failure to date?
McIntyre: The Distance Learning facility essentially involves the transmission of teaching programs and a certain amount of professional activity via satellite. This is still one of the most successful programs in the university. On the teaching side, we are now teaching first-year programs and mid-level programs like certificates, diplomas—a wide variety of fields. The registration for these is very substantial. As a matter of fact, we are thinking now—once we have laid the technology—we would bring to video teleconferencing. We hope, within the next 10 – 18 months to take it to the second year. And we might eventually put an entire degree program on the system.
Holder: Are there any drawbacks to distance learning?
Opinion Essay Military Service McIntyre: What happens, of course, is that students do the first year on the University of the West Indies Distance Teaching Enterprise ( UWIDITE) facility and they come on campus for the other years. And we have watched the performance of those students who started on distance in a variety of fields […] Of course, a number of the distance students are more mature, so we have to bear that in mind..
Holder: Has the application of the new technology led to connections with other universities? And how will this impact on enrollment and cost?
McIntyre: We are studying the feasibility of operating a 24-hour educational channel with three other universities n Latin America. We can’t use up 20 hours of online time. But if everybody takes the equivalence of six hours, we would be able to use educational television right through the region and beam it into Latin America.
The new technologies offer us enormous opportunities for increasing access to higher education and, of course, cutting the cost of higher education, which is very substantial. The cost of a UWI place is 50 times that of a place in a primary school. So one has to realize what we are dealing with. It’s a very expensive form of education. It gets more expensive because higher education is being globalized and academic staff is very mobile.
Holder: What percentage of the cost of education do students pay?
McIntyre: They pay 16%. What we are doing is backing that up with a student loan program. And certainly in Jamaica—I am not sure what happens elsewhere—students can borrow on their own surety [but] a student coming from the lower income sector doesn’t have that choice. And if they opt to go into a career of higher social priority, the government will rebate the payments of their loans for the years of service. For example, if they go into teaching, for every year in that profession, the government picks up their annual repayment.
Holder: What allowances are made for students who have the academic ability but may lack the financial resources?
McIntyre: The process works like this: In all of the countries we advertise places-for law or whatever. Then we send a list of those students who have been accepted to individual governments who would take up 85% of tuition. Then we arrange for them to go to banks and negotiate a loan for the [remaining] 15%. Students have to find funds for clothes, food, books and so on. We are trying to do two things: First, we are trying to get companies to give bursaries and link it to vacation employment… And, secondly we are trying to do something that we haven’t done much of; campus employment—[although] the students themselves are very hesitant… In Jamaica, about 40% of our students are from households below the poverty line… We have been doing a lot of detailed studies of that. So we need to address this in a more substantial way.
Holder: What benefit are there to American students studying in the Caribbean?
McIntyre: I think they would be exposed to a much more different cultural setting than they would experience in the United States. We have tended in the past—although we are moving away from that—to follow the British system. Which means that every course you do you do a certain amount of lectures and a certain amount of tutorials… That is a very labor intensive way of teaching. So we might have to back away from it. We are doing that already. We don’t use the multiple choice system as heavily as American universities do. We have to mark a lot of scripts. On the other hand, it gives students a much better exposure to writing.
Holder: I hope your response spelling out the rigorous nature of the requirements doesn’t deter American students from considering UWI…
McIntyre: Well, I don’t want to portray a sun, sand, and calypso image and stuff like that. That’s there, of course. But we are a serious institution. So if you are a serious student, you are expected to work as everybody has to. It’s a good type of melting pot of people and it would be a new experience for foreign students.
Holder: What is the cost of tuition and board?
McIntyre: In the liberal arts, I would assume about $1,000 a semester.
Holder: What were the major recommendations of the West Indian Commission with respect to education?
McIntyre: I’ll tell you the one that really satisfied me. I am very satisfied with the Commission’s work. But the one that really satisfied me was at the last Heads of Government Conference; they agreed that with effect from January 1, 1996, all graduates would enjoy freedom of movement in the Caribbean. That’s a big plus for us.
Holder: Have governments become more tolerant of radical/activist faculty? Remember the expulsion of the late Walter Rodney from Jamaica…
McIntyre: In the 1970s we had a lot of problems. Today, there isn’t as much active political activity. When I left the university in 1972 during lunchtime there were political groups everywhere. When I came back—and I’m not terribly happy with this situation—and I saw all these lunchtime groups, I asked: “What parties are these? Political parties?” They were religious groups. The evangelists have taken over, particularly among women. I am worried about this because one of them tends to discourage [female] students from continuing their studies. That worries me a lot.
Holder: What account for the seeming depoliticization of students and the populace at large?
McIntyre: The whole environment has changed. First of all, there is a widespread misbelieve and mistrust in government. The governments are really on the downside. Secondly, and I don’t particularly care for this either—students, like the rest of society are extremely materialistic. Their focus is on job, car, house, clothes…. Spare a thought for the community where you live!
I was telling some colleagues the other day who were talking about finding rich husbands: “Look for poor husbands who are rich in values; not rich husbands who are poor in values” Thai is the problem we face.
Holder: Any special message for the Caribbean community?
McIntyre: We are very much counting upon the Caribbean community in the U.S. to help us through this transition period.
Holder: In what concrete ways can the community help?
McIntyre: You are accumulating a lot of experience about what is going on in the United States, how the U.S. is changing. And you must have your own thoughts of how an area like the Caribbean must respond to changes. That is one thing. Secondly, take an interest in the university and its activities. Encourage your children and relatives to come down and take a few summer courses. And wherever you find it possible, send some financial support. It’s your university after all.
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Winthrop R. Holder
A New York City educator, Holder has written extensively on Caribbean cultural pedagogy. He is the author of Classroom Calypso: Giving Voice to the Voiceless (Peter Lang International Academic Publishers, 2007)