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The UWI Open Campus Hosts Two-Day Showcase of the Strengthening Distance Education in the Caribbean Project

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Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Barbados.  May 08, 2018 -- The University of the West Indies Open Campus is making high-quality tertiary level education more available to people across the Caribbean and beyond at reduced costs. This outstanding achievement is due to the Campus’ offer of new programmes aimed at building a robust regional labour force and new information technology driven business processes that provide support services for students, staff and the wider public. These achievements were highlighted in a two-day showcase of the successes of the Strengthening Distance Education in the Caribbean (SDEC) project that culminated in a dinner and awards ceremony at the Hilton Barbados Resort, St. Michael, from April 23 to 24, 2018.

In her presentation, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal of the Open Campus, Dr. Luz Longsworth explained that these achievements resulted from the successful implementation of the 31 million Canadian dollar SDEC project that the Open Campus has been implementing over the last four years (2014 to 2018). Partnering with The University of the West Indies, with the Open Campus as executing agency, the Canadian government contributed 62 per cent or 21million dollars of the project’s cost. The Open Campus has so far, contributed nearly 8 million dollars in kind, the Caribbean Development Bank, 3 million as a low-cost loan, and the government of Jamaica, through its agency, the Universal Service Fund (USF), a 1.4 million dollar grant. 

The SDEC project focuses on expanding access to post-secondary education to increase employment opportunities that will in turn contribute to the sustainable development of the Caribbean and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes. Consequently, over 20 academic programmes, an associated 247 courses, as well as 37 Continuing and Professional Education programmes and an associated 120 courses were developed under the project.  An additional four Certificate programmes; three in Community Leadership and Development and one in Enhancing Organisational Productivity Management, were also developed. Two certificate courses in Women and the Law and Women and Entrepreneurship were also developed. An MPhil/PhD programme, in Child, Adolescent and Youth Studies was recently developed and is scheduled for delivery in September 2018. Courses in documenting and assessing prior knowledge and experiences gained in the workplace for advanced credit and for matriculation were also developed. 
Full tuition scholarships were awarded to course participants. These courses, including a Digital Literacy course, which increase the number of options for persons to access tertiary level education at The UWI.

Gender and environmental sensitivity were integrated into all relevant aspects of the SDEC project which resulted in increased diversity in images and content material including the upgrade of the Open Campus Website and all other Open Campus publications. These publications were aligned to the one UWI brand and increasing diversity in student enrolment, including cultural, ethnic, gender and special needs diversity - regionally and internationally.

On the information technology side, student and staff support services were strengthened online to improve processes in admissions, registration, transcripts, and accessing information on grades. Cable networks and equipment for 393 computer workstations were implemented at 29 Open Campus sites. Staff reported improvements in functionality – they benefited from larger screens, faster processes and portable devices which enabled them to complete multiple tasks more efficiently, in multiple locations during flexible hours.
The SDEC project has also enabled the Open Campus to align its electronic records management system with international standards. The computer driven system was successfully piloted in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada. The implementation strategy will make the Campus legally compliant, able to secure and preserve the organisation’s history, facilitate business continuity and the more efficient and productive management of records. During the remainder of the project, the system will be rolled out to other Open Campus sites. The Library Information System also experienced significant improvement due to the acquisition of digital resources, improvements to physical collections and laying the ground work for a joint-user policy to share library information resources across the region. Extensive training of staff and students was another significant component of improving the library services.
The final component of the SDEC project, which was celebrated at the Showcase, was the development of conceptual designs for the physical and ICT future needs of the Open Campus. These designs are based on the concept of Centres of Excellence (COE) that are environmentally compliant and target the United Nations driven Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Initially, the COEs will be piloted at four Open Campus Sites - Belize, the Commonwealth of Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis and the Gordon Street site in Trinidad and Tobago. The physical structures and programme offers will be themed on the specialisation of the COE. The Belize site will focus on Culture, Heritage Studies and Tourism; Dominica on Agriculture, Marine Science & Environmental Studies; St. Kitts on Leadership Development, Management and Entrepreneurship and Trinidad and Tobago on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). 

The Sites’ and the Open Campus leadership will work with governments and the private sectors - locally, regionally and internationally - to transform teaching and research into technology driven creative and innovative entrepreneurial projects. They will provide national guidance, training and give oversight and be focal points for knowledge management in the specialised areas. The COEs will be energy efficient, environmentally and socially compliant while minimising their impact and energy footprint. Reception areas, lobbies, classrooms, walkways, furnishings and artefacts will be similarly themed. All presenters emphasized the need for international governments and multi-lateral donor agencies to strengthen their support of the UWI to realise these Centres for sustainable regional development through expanding distance education opportunities in the Caribbean region led by The UWI Open Campus.

All speakers, the Vice Chancellor of The UWI, the Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal of the Open Campus, the 2017 Open Campus Valedictorian, Mr. Nick Francis and guest speaker, Canadian High Commissioner to Barbados, Her Excellency Marie Legault, congratulated The UWI Open Campus for its expert implementation of the project. Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir Hillary Beckles called it, “brilliantly executed” and an institutional and regional model for the effective and transformative implementation of internationally funded projects.  The results, he said, would strengthen The UWI to meet its remit of expanding access to tertiary level education. They commended the project management team and the Open Campus beneficiaries for achieving transformative change and for building the institution’s capacity for long-term development to lead distance education in the Caribbean region.
In her comments, Principal, Longsworth noted that the availability of a wide range of high demand programmes and the technological improvements implemented under the SDEC project had enabled the Open Campus to offer good quality, low-cost education using the distance education modality. This flexible approach had led to increased enrolment, she said. She cited the example of the Open Campus Saint Lucia site, which recorded the third highest student enrolment, behind Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago over the 10-year life of the Open Campus. She emphasised that on average, the over 800 students in Saint Lucia, had attained their undergraduate and graduate degrees at the unprecedented low cost to the government of under US 2000 dollars per student per year. Dr Longsworth also highlighted the fact that additionally, students in remote locations, or who were unable, because of work, family or other commitments to study in a physical campus location, were able to do so at an Open Campus facility or at home. 

In recognition of the transformative change that the SDEC project was having on education in the region, the Open Campus Principal presented Her Excellency Marie Legault, with a token of appreciation to the government and people of Canada for their support of the SDEC project. Her Excellency also addressed the gathering, which included distinguished members of government and civil society representatives. She outlined the history of Canada’s trading and funding partnerships with the Caribbean region, one of which was the Open Campus’ distance education programme. She emphasized Canada’s global commitment to promoting sustainable development, women’s empowerment and gender equality in all foreign assistance development projects. She also explained that Canada’s foreign assistance programme was informed by the feminist approach of Canada’s leadership. This approach is driven by the need for women’s empowerment, and democratic governance that promotes human rights and equal access to decision-making and resources and benefits. 



Members of the current SDEC Project Management Team, from left – Project Director Mrs. Mitra Knight, Gender Specialist, Ms. Shirley A. Campbell, Project Manager, Ms. Tracey Edwards and Junior Project Manager, Ms. Simín Dolphin, Finance Officer Mr. Bernard Thomas and Administrative Assistant, Ms. Shereece Glasgow. Previous employees included - Mr. Alan Robinson and Mr. Kirkland Brathwaite, Project Managers and Administrative Assistant, Ms. Gail Watson. The Team was rewarded for its hard work and “brilliantly executing” the SDEC Project

Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal of The UWI Open Campus, Dr. Luz Longsworth (third left), making the opening remarks at the start of the two-day showcase of the Strengthening Distance Education in the Caribbean Project. From left are Project Director, Mrs. Mitra Knight, Deputy Principal of The UWI Open Campus, Professor Julie Meeks-Gardner and GAC’s Sector Monitor, Mr. John Knapp.  

Her Excellency, Marie Legault, Canadian High Commissioner to Barbados accepts a token of appreciation from the Principal of the Open Campus, Dr. Luz Longsworth for the generous donation of Canadian 21 million dollars investment in the Strengthening Distance Education in the Caribbean project at the two-day showcase of the project at the Hilton Barbados on April 24, 2018 (Photo Courtesy Jeffrey Bishop, Barbados Advocate).