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The culture of the University

UWI students in a classroom session

If the University of the West Indies (UWI) is to realise its fullest potential, it needs to become a more caring and kinder organisation.

That’s one of the conclusions reached by a high-powered team of regional experts, under the leadership of former President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Sir Dennis Byron that undertook a major review of the operations of the region’s premier tertiary institution.

In its report, the group of experts noted that UWI conducted climate surveys in 2012 and 2015, and the results from the respondents indicated that “the existing culture is “toxic”.

It showed that there was major issues when it came to Trust, Integrity, the ability to speak freely and feeling a sense of care from the management.

“These findings were reaffirmed by many of the respondents to other information gathering tools used by the Commission. Thus, the Commission is convinced of the need for the transformation of the culture of the entire workforce, including all levels of leadership, the Deans, and HODs, and the entire workforce.

“The Commission submits that, if the University is to realise its fullest potential, it needs to become a more caring and kinder organisation. It urges the leadership to make serious and consistent efforts towards achieving this. It is understood that it will involve the challenging task of transforming the current culture of The UWI.

Following are highlight of the UWI Report:-

Funding and Technical Support Issues
Digital transformation is inherently complex, resource intensive and time-consuming, even when pursued steadily, without major or frequent delays and interruptions.

At The UWI, it started with a vision in 2008 of a Single Virtual University Space that eventually matured, evolved and metamorphosed into the structured change management programme launched in 2019.

Progress has often been modest and intermittent, particularly in the earlier conceptualisation phases of the journey, largely due to commitment, capacity and funding gaps.

Financial support provided by the Caribbean Development Bank had enabled the University to engage ProCare in two consulting service stints, six years apart, to identify and articulate the various issues and elements and to rally support and build momentum across the University.

The Commission took note that progress became more expeditious and more steadfast since the formulation of the digital transformation programme in September 2019, but its pace and rigour are still inadequate.

This is once again largely due to persisting, albeit narrowing commitment, capacity and funding gaps.

Views expressed to the Commission suggest that progress in Digital transformation is still insufficiently championed from the top, with mobilised resources still inadequately deployed and not yet undergirded by the management and technical support levels required for successful Implementation.

Nomenclature and Taxonomic Issues
A ‘One UWI’ nomenclature framework is a top priority governance tool for the digital transformation. It is critical for enhancing the interoperability and communications across the University, both during and after the transformation.

It must start with compiling a baseline inventory of the mission-critical terms and definitions frequently used at various points across the University. Without it, any progress on any other front will be limited.

Functional Transformation Governance Issues
Digital transformation documents offer analyses of various issues and identify priority action points needed for the transformation of each stream of five functional domains of the programme.

Each set includes at least one key recommendation from a governance perspective or with a governance thrust.

These are outlined in a recommendation of the Commission to be taken into consideration by the executive management.

The Commission recognises that the digital transformation programme will be predicated on several recommendations from ProCare.

The Commission also sees a timely promising pilot in the matrix, dual-reporting and goal-driven stewardship approach of the federated accountability framework, as proposed by ProCare to govern the programme.

The programme thus holds potential as a keystone for remodelling the University Governance. In due course, the framework can possibly be rolled out as a tested model to govern more than just the current transformation programme.

For example, it may be rolled out to transform Faculties across the campuses, in a way similar to how it is now transforming functional domains of the programme.

The Commission concludes that ICT, and the digital transformation programme are imperative, both for governance and executive management. Both require an intensive effort to secure external funding sources and/or internal funding allocation shifts for their purposes.

Given the troublesome financial circumstances of the University, and since it will be impossible to progress towards all outlined goals at the same time, there will be a need for careful prioritisation and a timetable with measurable goals, required, funding levels, and identified sources.

As shown by the Commission’s analysis of the impact of COVID, every effort will have to be made to prioritise this agenda as it is central to the survival of the University in a post COVID world.

The Commission also concludes that the transformation to achieve a ‘One UWI’ integrated enterprise would require sweeping cultural, operational and technological changes that involve all constituents of the regional institution.

A genuinely committed and involved executive leadership team must enable and support the transformation.

Transformation cannot be undertaken solely by a cadre of professionals; it must also engage the top leadership of the University.

Its programme must also be monitored and overseen by a Committee of the University Council. This Committee must include independent members with requisite change management, strategy and technology knowledge and expertise, in addition to representative University leaders and Council members, in order to assure University stakeholders that meaningful progress is being made.

Finally, on a relevant governance matter, the Commission noted that while the Campus CIO is a member of the Campus Council under statute, the University CIO, who is the officer in charge of the University-wide ICT portfolio, is merely in attendance at Council meetings.

Hence, the Commission acknowledges the need to duly recognise and formalise the University CIO post as a Council Member.

The Commission calls for an unambiguous executive commitment to driving the digital transformation, based on the following key recommendations:

(a) That a Digital Transformation Committee of the University Council be established, as proposed in Section 6.

(b) That the post of University CIO be accorded more prominence, visibility and authority and be duly recognised and formalised as a Council Member by statute.

(c) That the University secure adequate funding and resources for the various ICT and digital transformation activities and developmental requirements, including outsourcing tasks and/or procuring technical assistance to supplement the in-house capacity where needed.

(d) That the University take all necessary action to support and enable the human resources designated for roles in the digital transformation programme to spend adequate time on it. This includes adjusting workloads and performance evaluation measures across multiple roles.

(e) That the University proceed steadfastly with developing a compendium of all mission-critical nomenclature. In every round of reform, restructuring or governance overhauling thereafter, the University should take stock of nomenclature issues that would have emerged over the elapsed period, to determine endorsements, changes and/or other necessary actions.

(f) That management teams and respective governance committees take into account and incorporate in their work plans the various other key digital transformation recommendations presented in Appendix N in the Annex to this Report. An outline of those includes consolidating and integrating each of the following:

(i) Enterprise data architecture, IT governance system and ICT investment strategy.

(ii) Communication and relationship management framework and system tools.

(iii) Institutional research and business intelligence operations and system tools.

(iv) Academic catalogues, academic architecture and academic governance system tools.

(v) Library solution to provide equitable access to adequate library resources and services.

(vi) Deployment and upgrades of IT platforms and software product lines, ensuring version compatibility and interoperability across the university.

(vii) ICT assets inventory and network performance auditing system.

(viii) Shared business process and workflow repository and management system.

(ix) Flexible HR and Faculty staff workload profiles and performance assessment models.

(x) Budget system and a resource allocation and financial reporting shared model.

The Commission noted that the budget system, resource allocation and financial reporting shared model must support the One UWI ICT strategy, with adequate ICT cost tracking, monitoring and evaluation tools.

The system must facilitate visibility of the aggregated and disaggregated capital and operating costs of all ICT assets and operations across the University, including those under the purview of the University and Campus CIOs, the libraries and any other department that may have its own direct ICT spending.

The Culture of the University
The culture of an organisation is perhaps its most defining feature. It speaks to how the work is done, how staff relate to and treat each other, how people feel about themselves and others, and how they communicate. Some organisational theorists suggest that organisational culture is more critical to the organisation than strategy.

The University of the West Indies conducted climate surveys in 2012 and 2015, and the results revealed the view of the respondents that the existing culture is “toxic”, with less than satisfactory scores under the following headings:

(a) Trust

(b) Integrity

(c) Speaking freely

(d) Management cares for us.

These findings were reaffirmed by many of the respondents to other information gathering tools used by the Commission. Thus, the Commission is convinced of the need for the transformation of the culture of the entire workforce, including all levels of leadership, the Deans, and HODs, and the entire workforce.

The Commission submits that, if the University is to realise its fullest potential, it needs to become a more caring and kinder organisation. It urges the leadership to make serious and consistent efforts towards achieving this. It is understood that it will involve the challenging task of transforming the current culture of The UWI.

Concepts and Characteristics of a Caring Organisation
According to Marci Koblenz, a founder of “Companies That Care”, a company that cares is one that sees creating a positive work environment for employees and being an active corporate citizen as integrated components of its identity.

A more caring University will demonstrate the following characteristics:

(a) Sustain a work environment founded on dignity and respect for all employees

(b) Make employees feel their jobs are important

(c) Cultivate the full potential of all employees

(d) Encourage individual pursuit of work/life balance

(e) Enable the wellbeing of individuals and their families through compensation, benefits, policies and practices

(f) Develop great leaders who excel at managing people as well as results

(g) Show appreciation for and recognise the contributions of people

(h) Establish and communicate standards for ethical behaviour and integrity

(i) Get involved in community endeavours and public policy

(j) Consider the human toll when making business decisions.

Caring and kindness are cost-neutral but pay big dividends. Neglecting caring and compassion equals neglecting a major driver of human interaction.

Executive level commitment to making caring and kindness contagious is the single most important requirement for transforming the existing culture.

The Commission noted and endorsed the recommendations of the (2012) report of the Governance Network Limited, and the (2018) report of ProCare consultants which highlighted the need for dedicated resources to be made available for the change management effort.

Implementation of Recommendations
Many of the governance challenges raised in this Report are not new: some have been pointed out in previous reports, including the 2006 Task Force on Governance, and suggestions made on how they could be addressed. In the Commission’s view, the ATTAIN and ProCare Reports made many sound recommendations to correct the governance and management deficiencies identified in those Reports, but since many of those recommendations were not implemented, the deficiencies and their attendant negative consequences have persisted.

It is the Commission’s fervent hope that this Report will not suffer the fate of previous Reports and that such of its recommendations as the Council accepts will be implemented in a timely manner. In this regard, the Commission recommends that the Council establish a dedicated Implementation Team which would develop maps for each stage of implementation of the accepted recommendations.

The Team would be mandated to report periodically to the proposed Executive Committee of Council on achievements against an approved plan and time-table.

The Commission recognises that putting in place some of its recommendations will require significant adjustments, including cultural changes and a redesign of structures and processes.

Post Script –The Lessons and Implications of Pandemics


The depth and scope of global disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is wellknown and increasingly documented. Among its most crippling effects (besides the health casualties and the economic ruination) is the closure of education systems worldwide. The ILO reports that four out of every five workers – a total of 3.3 billion persons – have been rendered unemployed as a consequence of the pandemic while UNESCO estimates that three out of every four students or 1.37 billion persons across 138 countries are out of school.

This impact has been particularly acute in higher education and in universities everywhere. The university campus is a community characterised by diversity of all kinds (nationality, ethnicity, language, intellectual interests) living, studying and interacting in close proximity to each other. An important characteristic of regional universities is the proportion of local and regional students and faculty incorporated in that community and for universities aspiring to be world class, the proportion of international students and faculty is also an indication of prestige and status.

Like universities worldwide, The University of the West Indies has been adversely impacted by the pandemic. In many cases, the impact has been binary across these institutions – they have either had to completely shut down or have been able to ensure continuity of learning. In the case of The UWI, the impact has been largely textured according to the ICT and e-learning capabilities of the various campuses and faculties.

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