UWI COMMITS TO SUPPORTING HAITIAN HIGHER EDUCATION SECTOR
The University of the West Indies has engaged the Haitian community, in particular the Higher Education sector, in various ways since the devastating January earthquake. Critical amongst these engagements was its participation in early assessments on the ground in partnership with CARICOM. This was conducted via the Caribbean Emergency and Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA) and focused on short-term and emergency relief mechanisms.
In mid-March, Vice Chancellor E. Nigel Harris, now President of the Association of Caribbean Universities and Research Institutions (UNICA) 2010-2 convened a meeting of that regional body at the UWI St Augustine Campus where there was a dialogue with the four UNICA Haitian institutions, the State University, Quisqueya University, Notre Dame University and University Caraïbe to determine their post-earthquake needs. A Communiqué on UNICA Action for Haiti was subsequently issued, which speaks, inter alia, of the creation of a UNICA Task Force for Haiti which would coordinate the UNICA response for an initial period of one year.
In May, a site visit to UNICA member institutions in Haiti was arranged for Dr Matthew Smith, Chair of the UNICA- Haiti Task Force to assess the status of their recovery efforts. UNICA Secretary General Annette Insanally was invited to participate in a meeting of the National Education Commission at Club Indigo, Haiti 12th and 13th May and a mission was also led by Dr Asad Mohammed on a UWI/UN Habitat project 2-5th May.
In addition, a teleconference was held between UWI and INURED, a consortium of North American, Haitian and other regional tertiary institutions with headquarters in Port au Prince to explore collaboration between the two bodies for Haiti. It was agreed that UNICA and INURED will collaborate to develop a data base of resources that both networks can bring to the table when partnering with Haitian colleagues for the reconstruction of their tertiary sector.
UWI then committed to offering a scholarship programme to offer assistance to students close to completion of their degrees and whose programmes of study were interrupted by the earthquake. In September, the UWI Mona Campus welcomed 26 Haitian scholarship students from the Université d’Etat d’Haïti (UEH). The students have all been awarded full scholarships to complete their studies at Mona for one year. All scholarship students are final year students at the UEH and are able to speak English. The scholarship criteria were worked out by the two universities, and each student was interviewed prior to acceptance. The Haitian students are all living in Halls of Residence on the campus and participating in daily English classes to improve their language competence. The students are located in several departments including Linguistics, Pure and Applied Sciences, History and Archaeology, Psychology, and Economics. The students have all been warmly received by the students on the Mona campus. French majors and Creole-speaking students from St. Lucia have offered volunteer service to assist the Haitian students in settling in. The International Students Office (ISO) has been coordinating the campus efforts to assist the students. After completing the scholarship programme in Jamaica, the students will return at the end of the academic year to Haiti where they will receive their Bachelor degrees from the UEH. On their return to Haiti, the students are expected to apply the experience and new skills learned while abroad to the service of national reconstruction.
The St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad &Tobago also offered tuition and accommodation to 70 Haitian students from the State University. In preparation for this project, Professor Clement Imbert of the Faculty of Engineering made a site visit to Haiti and interviewed the proposed scholarship recipients. At present, the Campus is accommodating 54 students who arrived in mid-September, 41 of whom are in Engineering, 12 in Agriculture and 1 in Management Studies. The students are all expected to be at St. Augustine for 1 semester and efforts are being made to offer them customised study programmes and supervision in order to meet a departure date back to Haiti of December 23, 2010. The International Office at St. Augustine is coordinating the initiative. Also involved in this project are the respective Faculties, the Centre for Language Learning, St. Lucian and other students who speak Creole, the Guild of Students and the Vice Chancellor’s Ambassadors (UWISTAT). The Campus has donated tuition, accommodation and cash (through internal fundraising efforts) to the students and with the help of the Chairman of the Campus Council, Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams, a strong fundraising drive has been made with the local private sector to cover remaining expenses. Substantial funds have been raised from a range of local organisations, including the donation of a chartered flight from Caribbean Airlines to bring the students from Haiti to Trinidad, but the figures still fall short of what is required for the immediate 54 students. The Campus is eager to accept the remaining 16 students (in Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine) but this is dependent on additional funding required to cover travel and other expenses. The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) has been approached for funding assistance to support the UWI scholarship initiative.
In addition to helping students with the completion of their undergraduate degrees the UWI recognizes the need to address the medium and long-term term needs of Haiti as it focuses on complementing Haiti’s present capacity in the rebuilding of the country. It is envisaged that one year after their programme of study, students could engage in service-type training / internships to assist in Haiti’s redevelopment. The provision of assistance to Haiti’s tertiary education sector by utilizing video conferencing as well as moving Faculty to Haiti instead of having students move out of Haiti is also contemplated.
Meanwhile, the UWI is also engaged in other projects with Haitian Higher Education Institutions. These include a Teacher Education by distance programme under a UWI Open Campus/ Université Quisqueya partnership and a Project in Urban Planning under a UWI St Augustine / Université Quisqueya partnership both with seed money from the International Association of Universities (IAU). Other proposals include a Quisqueya University /UWI/ University of Havana partnership for a Language Institute and a proposal for a post-graduate training programme in disaster management for students and staff of the UWI, State University of Haiti and Quisqueya University. Additionally, UWI librarians from the Mona Campus were sent to Haiti in July where they conducted a one-week training programme and Haitian librarians went to Mona for training. There is a great need for basic skills training in this area and an on-going project is being contemplated.
AI, September 27, 2010