Sunday 2nd March, 2008

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Social Science faculty to show research

Last week, the three faculties of Social Sciences of the University of the West Indies held a cross-campus conference to discuss various issues of academic policy and collaboration.

The gathering emerged out of the Strategic Plan for the University of the West Indies for the period 2007–2012 that was approved by the University’s Council last June.

That Strategic Plan really challenges the Faculties of Social Sciences on the three campuses of UWI to sustain global standards of excellence in their undergraduate and graduate teaching programmes through the aggressive pursuit of quality assurance reviews, online innovations, stakeholder feedback, technological applications and curriculum reviews.

Growing competition

Outstanding research accomplishments can be made possible through the implementation of major reforms in the delivery of graduate study programmes and the greater involvement of regional governments, the private sector and international agencies in the enhanced funding of research activities.

The brightest students in the region should feel encouraged to attend the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of the West Indies as their first choice because of the quality of the programmes being offered and their relevance to the region.

The availability of blended learning resources can now allow an enhanced quality of delivery for courses, degrees, diplomas and certificates across the region that will enable career development and life-long learning opportunities on a fairer basis by 2012. To this end, the emergence of the Open Campus in the UWI system will have a role to play in the future of the region.

Administrative reform of the functional operations of the university is being addressed to help it accomplish a more responsive and student-friendly environment through the application of a more decentralised decision-making process in student matters, revised admissions and examinations processes, and the increased adoption of e-solutions.

The success of this transformation can be accomplished by consensus management techniques internally in the face of growing competition across the region in the tertiary sector.

Despite the difficulties of the secondary school system, UWI has to help its graduates to satisfy the human resource needs of the region in the public and private sectors by virtue of their wider exposure to critical thinking and problem-solving techniques that will be presented to them.

Those who decide to pursue postgraduate study will be able to move seamlessly without knowledge gaps to attractive graduate programmes that will push back the frontiers of knowledge in their respective fields.

The challenges of large classes and expansion of access in a shifting tertiary environment must be faced directly. The reality is the University of the West Indies continues to play a role in this region while celebrating its sixtieth anniversary.

The need for critical self-analysis is a good outcome of a cross-campus conference in which the major players are the Faculty members themselves who are willing to critique their own performance and rate their strengths and weaknesses with brutal honesty.

The ability to have a dialogue about the curriculum in which all of the regulatory booklets and syllabi are set aside is a healthy approach in reviewing what the Faculty of Social Sciences should be teaching and researching.

The issues of relevance of new programmes or the retirement of some older courses and programmes are crucial in the revamping of the curricula to suit the state of the Social Sciences at the start of this millennium.

The conference allowed the Faculties of Social Sciences to enhance the use of the regional system to strengthen teaching and research.

There exists a basis for collaborative research and teaching between the campuses. Online applications can be used with great effect and new research clusters can be formed.

The promotion of collegiality across the UWI system was a major benefit of this conference insofar as academic and administrative staff had the ability to meet each other outside of cyberspace. This will improve the quality of the interactions as new friendships were formed across the region in a virtual spirit of Caricom.

The ability of the UWI Distance Education Centre to facilitate the live Web casting of this conference to the Mona and Cave Hill campuses for the benefit of those who could not attend added real value to the proceedings.

Drive the process

The use of breakout groups for specialised discussions about where the faculty members wanted to see their respective disciplines go was a most effective tool.

The disciplines covered were accounting, banking and finance, criminology, economics, government, hospitality and tourism, international relations, management information systems, management studies, public administration/public sector management, sociology, social work and psychology.

There was also a Faculty Office group that considered matters of academic policy such as matriculation policies, registration issues, harmonisation of courses and regulations, credits and exemptions for courses already pursued, the Banner Student System (for electronic management of records and interface with students), the declaration of degrees, etc.

Graduate studies as well as research and innovation issues also were discussed in light of the fact that the new strategic plan has placed great emphasis on these two areas as pillars of the plan.

There is a considerable amount of research being undertaken at the UWI, but the general public is not aware of much of it. This will be one of the challenges for the remaining four years of the plan itself.

The changing tertiary environment in the region can drive this process to the extent that many social problems are already being tackled by scholars in the institution whose work is not known beyond the walls.

The University of the West Indies now has a golden opportunity to reposition its image in the society as a creator of knowledge, while simultaneously satisfying the academic and career desires of its students.

Strengthening regionality while simultaneously addressing national engagement processes is a challenge the UWI has had for 60 years and has managed it well. Therein lies the strength of the UWI.

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