Higher Education – Call For Action

Head table at the UWI Conference
Head table at the UWI Conference
Head table at the UWI Conference

THE UWI conference on Institutionalising Best Practice in Higher Education, held at the St Augustine Campus from June 24 to 26, ended on a high note with calls for a revolution in higher education.

Keynote speaker on day one of the conference Dr Claudia Harvey, stated, “To institutionalise best practices in higher education in the Caribbean, there must be conscious attention to honing a culture of quality.” Using the case of Cuba as an example of best practice in the delivery of higher education, she stated, “we need a revolution in the way in which we think to make best use of our resources.” Reinforcing the need for a revolution in higher education and a culture of quality, Professor Dan Butin of Merrimack College in the United States, suggested that to transform and engage students, higher education professionals need to consider “flipping the university.” He added, “This would involve making the student the centre of teaching, with discussion and authentic, project centred learning as the core of the flipped university.”

The idea of the student as centre and the importance of authentic learning were further endorsed by keynote speaker Dr Paul Kim of Stanford University, who addressed participants on the final day of the conference. Speaking on the topic: Academic Excellence in the Post MOOC Era: Lessons Learned on Technology Best Practice, Dr Kim stated, “Overall, the digital future in higher education is obvious and will be phenomenal.” He talked about the importance of students having access to the digital world and being able to actively engage in a learning environment.

Delivering the feature address at the formal opening of the conference, Vice-Chancellor of The UWI, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles noted, “To foster best practice, we must insist upon expansion, diversity and higher education cost reduction.” He called for a culture of innovation and wealth generation, while Principal of the St Augustine Campus Professor Clement Sankat highlighted the Campus’s commitment to programme and institutional accreditation as a best practice in external quality assurance.

Catherine Kumar, Chief Executive Officer, of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce and Teresa White, Group Human Resource Director, ANSA McAL Group of Companies made suggestions for improving the partnership between higher education institutions and the business sector. These included encouraging structured internship opportunities and developing programmes to address the number one challenge of talent faced by the private sector. Ms Kumar supported a call from Vice-Chancellor Beckles for greater innovation and alignment of higher education with the needs of the region, by suggesting strategies for innovation.

Representing the UWI student perspective, former President of the Guild of Students from The UWI Cave Hill Campus, Damani Parris, called for greater attention to the development of 21st century student services that meet the needs of millennials. Another high point of the conference was confirmation by the Deputy Principal of The UWI St Augustine Campus, Professor Rhoda Reddock, that the campus would be increasing its services which cater to student development by launching a new Division of Student Services, on August 1, 2015.

Hosted by The UWI’s Quality Assurance Unit and Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, the conference sought to address some of the current challenges faced by regional higher education institutions. Over the three days a mix of regional and international subject matter experts shared experience and practical solutions for infusing best practice principles with over 150 registered participants from across the region. Session topics ranged from transitioning to online teaching, flipping the classroom and exploring foreign language teaching in the online environment to strategies for financing higher education, and using peer assessment as a learning tool.

Selected UWI best practices were also presented. The conference received the support of sponsors such as Huawei Technologies (T&T) Limited, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), National Institute of Higher Education Research Science and Technology (NIHERST) and the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT). Outcomes over the three days included reflections on integrating best practice principles in higher education and suggestions for action. These were echoed during panel discussions, discussion circles and presentations by higher education practitioners from various tertiary level institutions, representatives of the business community as well as a UWI student representative.

Based on the deliberations from the sessions, several suggestions were outlined as key initiatives to institutionalise best practices in the Caribbean region. Most common among these were that tertiary institutions should; • Develop institutional missions and strategies based on CARICOM priorities for the region, engaging staff and other stakeholders • Provide rewards and sanctions as applicable • Create more documentation and sharing of processes to avoid duplication • Pay greater attention to evaluation of actions • Ensure leadership resides in each individual • Improve communication in institutions • Adopt the principles of a learning organisation • Include more authentic, relevant learning, which requires more involvement of all stakeholders and • Identify alternative sources of funding for higher education.

Further suggestions from the conference deliberations and the conference papers will be made available digitally via The University’s online repository in the coming weeks.

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