Page 45

equal value. Researchers tend to think that what they do is the most important thing. But there must be an appreciation of other fields. The appreciation for the multiplicity of research is very important thing.” However, despite this egalitarian approach to the value of research, The UWI does have a structure in place to encourage applied research in 15 clusters. These include areas such as food production and security, climate change and the environment, competitiveness, security, Caribbean integration and education among others. These clusters are aligned with Caribbean development goals. He states, “our method is one of academic freedom to research combined with the need to have research answer the questions posed by the people and governments of the Caribbean. They have invested in this university and a return on that investment is expected. A response to those questions is required.” This alignment between research and the needs of the society is crucial. But it’s not as easy to take research beyond the campus as it would seem. Innovation entails risk. For business, that risk is financial, for governments it is political. Inertial forces such as complacency, fear of change and devotion to familiar ideas, practices and technologies pose a challenge to research-fuelled development. As far back as the mid-1980s, members of the Faculty of Engineering of the St. Augustine Campus formed a unit called the Real Time Systems Group (RTSG) to work with the private sector in Trinidad and Tobago on innovative projects. Although they had some successes, they were not able to form the kind of private sector/university partnerships that are common throughout the world. “The kind of engagement we saw with universities involved in other countries, pushing boundaries in research and using that research to push their products and processes on a total operational basis, we did not see happening here,” explained Professor Brian Copeland in an earlier interview, former Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at St. Augustine, and a member of the RTSG team. He added, “we came to the conclusion that our society was not designed that way, maybe because of its size or its history.”

Professor Webber concedes there can be challenges in building these relationships but knows it can work. As an environmental specialist he has been in several successful partnerships with governments, the private sector and interest groups. In fact, he believes this track record to be one of his strongest qualifications for the post. “The first thing I learned about managing the environment is that you have to manage people’s impact on the environment,” he says. “It’s about bringing data to policymakers and explaining these data. My success is based on the ability to form a bridge between research, application, influence and policy.” An outstanding example of this is the collaboration between The UWI Mona and the GraceKennedy Foundation, the philanthropic arm of this major regional corporation. Through this partnership Mona established the Environmental Management Unit, which would evolve into the Centre for Environmental Management under Professor Webber. He believes that the key for The UWI to build these relationships is to inspire confidence in the university’s capacity to meet the needs of the private sector and policymakers. “When it comes to communicating about their research, academics can be very humble. We need to get far more aggressive in our communication of what we are doing and what we can do. There may be a fear that we cannot respond to the needs of the private sector. We have to convince them that we are a better option,” he says. This approach entails much more active engagement with business and with bureaucrats from throughout the region to understand their developmental needs and in some cases assist them in creating their developmental plans. The UWI can then match those needs with the research clusters.


ncentivising Inquiry There are numerous scholars throughout the campuses of The UWI doing outstanding research. There are academics and graduate students with ideas and inclinations towards research work but either because of time or necessity are unable to devote themselves to the activity. There are members THE PELICAN/ISSUE 14 –


UWI Pelican Issue 14  
UWI Pelican Issue 14