This article was written by a contributing author who agreed to the UWICLUBS.com code of conduct
Almost hanging off the edge of page thirteen, in one of the daily newspapers, was this article, ‘UWI wants to hear from you’. A small article – no more than 500 words – with a seemingly big message to send.
“The University of the West Indies,” it began, “is in the process of developing its 2012-2017 strategic plan and has made a renewed call to its external stakeholders to contribute to the initiative.”
Several words instantly jumped out at me: “process”; “strategic”; “plan”; “stakeholders”; and “initiative”.
According to the article, the five-year plan is expected to add to the “successes of the current strategic plan,” also known as, Strategic Transformation for Relevance, Impact, Distinctiveness and Excellence (STRIDE 2007-2012).
This “initiative” will involve reviewing of the university’s “mission, vision and values”. The review is expected to yield “top strategic shifts” which would then help the UWI – get this – “maintain its position as the leader in Caribbean higher education and research.”
The article goes on to say that internal and external “stakeholders can share ideas on how to move forward as this fourth five-year term begins. Yes, there have been four of these plans thus far. According to the math, there have been twenty years of reviewing thus far.
The venture will be headed by UWI Vice-Chancellor Professor E. Nigel Harris, head of the Central Strategic Planning Committee (CSPC). The team has launched a website which will allow stakeholders the chance to share their experiences at the University of the West Indies. Professor Harris has stressed the importance of involving everyone in the planning process “so that we might more efficiently service our region.” The website in question is this one.
Internal and external stakeholders means the students of this university will get an opportunity to have their say. But will they really? Who can guarantee the “feedback” of many will not be casually tossed like the comments some of us care to make on the end-of-term course evaluation forms? Words are like currency in this instance, and maybe some would like to have an assurance that they will have a return on their investment. There may be students already dismissing this new initiative because of how they have been treated by the university. What measures are being taken by the CSPC to once again secure the trust of its student body in order to get adequate feedback? Does the CSPC even care about that?
Without the voice of the students this “strategic plan” will be a colossal failure. Positive steps cannot be made unless all stakeholders are involved. Voices must be heard (or in this case read) from all sides; students, parents, staff, and anyone else who is affected by the University of the West Indies. However, the issue of trust is still smouldering below the surface. It has been lost between the student body and the administration. Unless this is seriously addressed there can be no “strategic” push to improve the institution. Think of it as a marriage. If the couple is having problems the marriage isn’t going to fix itself overnight if you ask relatives to say what they think of the union’s progress and suggest a new way forward. At the end of the day all the couple would have are suggestions. The underlying issue is the absence of trust between the two. How do we fix that? How do we get students to trust the university’s administration once again? How do we show them that we are interested in their feelings and that they do matter?
Before the Committee gets upset with me here let me just say that I am not shooting down this effort. I’m not too thrilled about it either. I am merely providing feedback through this blog. To a point it is commendable, the effort made by Professor Harris and the CSPC, but it may be a stride ahead of itself. The aforementioned questions should be answered first before going forward, after all, the students are stakeholders…right? The UWI wants to hear from ALL stakeholders. It should take into account any conflict that may compromise the drive to really be a leader in Caribbean higher education and research. Now that’s being strategic.
The fact remains that this plan has already been set up and the website mentioned earlier exists. To the readers of this blog who are students, I implore you to give feedback anyway. Have your say. Think about your experiences at the UWI and compare it with the institution’s mission, vision and values. Write them down. Share them with Professor Harris and his team. Let us at least try to help rebuild our university and regain a sense of pride in it. I know it is very difficult for some of you as mistreatment of students is a real issue that has been skirted too many times. It does indeed hamper the process of higher learning. There can be no success without the students. This may be dramatic but try to find the strength to log on to the strategic plan website and address an issue. You don’t have to do it alone. You can discuss it with your colleagues. Raise an issue or two. Help them to help us. There are no promises and no guarantees and no reason why you should even heed these words but I sincerely hope that you would anyway. I am writing this for you as much as I am writing this for me. Another twenty years of strategic planning is not in our best interest. Another five-year cycle does not do us any good. We have things to say so by all means, readers, friends, say them.