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Review of the University of the West Indies

Sir Dennis Byron – an eminent jurist who headed the fact-finding review committee

The operation of the University of the West Indies has come under scrutiny by a high-powered committee that was set up to review its performance over the years.

Headed by former President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Sir Dennis Byron of St. Kitts, the committee has submitted its detailed report which pointed in the direction of several major weaknesses in the structure of the institution.

The report is now attracting attention throughout the region as its contents have found its way into the hands of the media.

Today, THE NEW TODAY focuses on some of the governing bodies with UWI:

Campus Principals
A Campus Principal is appointed by the Council on the recommendation of the Vice- Chancellor who may also recommend his/her appointment as a Pro Vice-Chancellor. All current Campus Principals hold office as Pro Vice-Chancellors and are required under the statutes to perform such functions of the Vice-Chancellor as the Vice-Chancellor may delegate.

As the chief executive officer of a campus, a Campus Principal is accountable to the Vice-Chancellor for the management of all spheres of the University’s operations on that campus.

A Campus Principal is a member of the Campus Council and the (University) Council as well as other major regional governance bodies (such as the Senate and University F&GPC). Under statute, a Campus Principal is a member, ex-officio, of many campus governance committees, usually in the capacity as the Chair.

The Commission sees no reason for any fundamental change to these arrangements but a few important adjustments seem desirable.

In the proposed governance model, the Campus Principal would remain the chair of the Campus Senior Management Committee (currently called the Campus Executive Management Team) and a member of the University Senior Management Committee (currently called the Executive Management Team) on the basis of statutory prescription and not merely by practice.

The Commission recommends that:

(a) as regards membership of the Executive Committee of the Council, the Campus Principals select (in rotation) one of their number to be their representative;

(b) while a Campus Principal would continue to report to the Vice-Chancellor, there should be a “dotted line reporting relationship” to the Campus Council through its new Executive Committee.

The Commission’s view is that the accountability of Campus Principals to their respective Campus Councils and to the University Council must rest on an assessment of their implementation of measurable short and long-term agreed strategic goals.

The Commission believes that appropriate instruments and other mechanisms should be designed to facilitate an integrated cross-University approach to addressing some of the University’s short-and long-term challenges and to document the progress of all campuses towards the achievement of the University’s development agenda.

Proposed Abolition of the University Strategy and Planning Committee
Responsibility for the development of the University’s Strategic Plan now falls within the purview of the Vice-Chancellor and the Executive Management Team.

It would be expected that, in the new governance configuration, the Plan would be constructed in collaboration with the University ECC, and with inputs from a revitalised Senate.

As is currently the case, the Council would approve the Plan and, thereafter, it would be the responsibility of the Vice-Chancellor and senior managers to ensure its implementation.

The Senate would monitor progress with respect to the achievement of academic goals while the ECC would monitor the financial and administrative aspects of the Plan.

These monitoring functions are currently exercised by the University Strategy and Planning Committee.

With the assignment of the monitoring functions to the ECC and the Senate, the University Strategy and Planning Committee would become redundant. The Commission therefore recommends that the University Strategy and Planning Committee should cease to exist and that Ordinance 10 under which it is established should be revoked.

Academic Governance
Academic governance is largely the province of the academic community. The ultimate academic authority of the University is the Senate. Specific powers of the Senate have been delegated to the Academic Board of each campus which is a Standing Committee of the Senate.

By statute, the Board for Undergraduate Studies (BUS) is assigned responsibility for “managing and assessing the process of quality assurance of programmes for first degrees, certificates and diplomas other than diplomas designated as advanced diplomas” and, by delegation, exercises much of Senate’s powers as they relate to undergraduate studies.

Similarly, the Board for Graduate Studies and Research (BGSR) exercises, also by way of statutory delegation, the powers of the Senate in relation to postgraduate studies.

It appears that these Boards are strong, respected academic governance structures that are fulfilling their mandates, by assuring quality and the maintenance of high academic standards. In the Commission’s view, their structure and functions should remain the same.

Academic Governance Challenges
Evidence of the strength of The UWI system of Academic Governance includes the positive findings by National Accreditation Bodies in their reviews of all four campuses.

In addition, the University has an internationally respected Quality Assurance system: UWI degrees are accepted internationally and the international ranking of the University is creditable (top 5% of the 20,000+ universities worldwide and consistently #1 in the Caribbean).

However, in the Commission’s consultations the following issues were raised:

(a) The considerable size of Academic Board and the high degree of absenteeism
Of the 130 members of the Academic Board, 78 had not attended any of the meetings in one year and another 26 attended only one meeting – a situation that could potentially impair careful review of some important issues.

(b) Absence of a Common Forum for Academic Matters
Given that most of the functions of the Senate are carried out by the Academic Boards on the campuses and by the Board for Undergraduate Studies and the Board for Graduate Studies regionally, there is a perception that the academic function is fragmented and that there is need for a forum in which strategic issues common to both the undergraduate and postgraduate education/research enterprise could be examined in a more integrated fashion (Provision is currently made for BUS and BGSR reporting to Council via F&GPC and for Academic Boards to report to Campus Council through Campus F&GPC, but these meetings have crowded agendas and insufficient time available to interrogate significant academic issues.

(c) Promotion System
There was much criticism of the promotion system, in particular, of what is believed to be insufficient recognition of teaching, contribution to University life and public service.

(d) Financing of Academic Programmes
While there is provision for linkage of academic programmes and financing, it is unclear the degree to which this occurs either centrally or at the campus level.

(e) Standardisation of Courses
There is concern about the lack of standardisation of courses and programmes across campuses to facilitate the mobility of students.

(f) High Instructional Costs
Based on the ATTAIN Report, instructional costs are high compared to benchmark institutions because of a multiplicity of courses and degree programmes with small enrolments, thereby increasing the demand for staff (a high number of whom are part time) and administrative and facility costs.

Recommendations on Academic Governance
The preservation of sound academic governance structures and practices and their enhancement over time are important in ensuring that, in the future, The UWI meets and exceeds its current performance.

As noted previously, it seemed to the Commission that, in general, the University’s academic governance structures are relatively strong, albeit concerns remain about the operational issues identified above, as well as the clear need to expand and integrate online course delivery by the landed campuses as well as the Open Campus (particularly in the post-COVID era).

A major complaint was that there was no single forum in which University policy and strategic matters related to the entire academic enterprise could be thoroughly examined and decisions made.

This is an important issue which the Commission thinks must be addressed so that the gains so far achieved in academic governance and management are not undermined, but strengthened.

The Commission believes that a revitalised Senate could provide such a forum.

A Revitalised Senate
Although most of its functions have been delegated to the Boards, the Senate remains the academic authority of the University under the University’s Charter.

Moreover, the Senate still has undelegated powers, some of which are significant, such as the power to deprive a person of a degree, diploma, certificate or other award, to determine the subjects in respect of which degrees may be awarded and the titles assigned to the degrees, and to make statutes.

Additionally, under statute, several powers of the Council are expressed as exercisable on the recommendation or with the consent of the Senate or after a report from it.

The exercise of these residual powers was evident in meetings of the Senate held in April 2019, October 2019 and May 2020 which dealt with the establishment of new Schools and a new Faculty, statutory amendments and proposals relating to academic dress.

In addition to these residual powers, a revitalised Senate could be assigned coordinating, rationalising and monitoring functions over the entire academic governance system in which academic authority is dispersed among BUS and BGSR, at the regional level, and 5 Academic Boards at the campus level.

The Senate would provide a single forum in which representatives of these bodies could come together to deal with, in an integrated way, cross-cutting matters that affect the University academic enterprise as a whole.

These could include academic policy formation, establishment of academic strategic goals and the monitoring of the achievement of those goals. Such a forum would likely serve to minimise inconsistencies and promote standardisation of approach and practice in the academic governance system and build consensus around common issues.

It would also provide the opportunity for the sharing of best practices in academic governance. The Commission recommends that the Senate should be explicitly authorised by statute to exercise co‐ordinating and monitoring functions over the academic governance system as a whole.

The respective roles and responsibilities of BUS, BGSR and the Academic Boards would remain the same.

Outlined below are matters that might be considered in Senate meetings:

(a) Monitoring the achievement of the University’s strategic, academic, research and outreach goals within current constrained fiscal parameters, using clearly defined measurables

(b) Ensuring that there are aggressive steps to better rationalise, re-align and integrate academic programmes across the campuses, as recommended in the ATTAIN Report and in the ProCare (2010 and 2018) Reports, with a view to achieving significant expenditure reduction.

(c) In the era of COVID 19 and other possible pandemics, providing an integrated, thoughtfully constructed plan (with measurables) to drive the expansion of cross-campus online programmes.

(d) Ensuring that quality assurance practices and measures are in place for face-toface and online teaching and research programmes.

(e) Ensuring that there is compliance with external regulatory standards (accreditation bodies) for both campus and professional programmes (e.g. medicine, nursing, engineering).

(f) Monitoring student outcomes against agreed benchmarks (e.g. student satisfaction, percentage of students graduating on time, percentage of students employed within six months of graduation and nature of employment; 1st,2nd and 3rd year retention rates and addressing dropout rates; percentage of degrees in STEM and other fields deemed important to national/regional development).

(g) Monitoring research productivity bench-marked against similar institutions internationally (for example, research publications per faculty members; Google Scholar measures; research funding).

(h) Ensuring that there is appropriate oversight of academic and research integrity.

  1. Monitoring collaborations and partnerships with external institutions to ensure on-going benefit and avoidance of financial and reputational risk.

Membership Under existing statute, the Senate is comprised of the Vice-Chancellor (Chair), Campus Principals, Pro-Vice-Chancellors, four Representatives of each Academic Board, including representatives of Deans serving as members of the Senate annually, and one member representing the Students’ Societies (Guilds of Students) of all campuses and the Alumni Association, in annual rotation, and such other members prescribed by Ordinance. This puts the number at 35.

The Commission proposes that a revitalized Senate should have 30 or less members. This could be achieved by the reduction in the number of representatives of the Academic Board.

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