UWI principal laments low enrolment at tertiary level

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Principal of The University of the West Indies, Mona, Professor Densil Williams is warning that low enrolment in tertiary education within the region is a recipe for stifling growth.

“When you look at this hemisphere, from Alaska down to Argentina, this region has the lowest level of enrolment in post-secondary education. The lowest level! It is not surprising, therefore, that this region, as I indicated before, has not seen economic take-off, but has actually remained at the commodity-driven kind of economic management, economic performance for a long time,” he said.

Williams was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s opening ceremony for the 31st Heads of Caricom Social Security Organisations conference at Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa in Montego Bay.

He cited data which indicateed that, except for “a handful of countries” in the region, only two out of every 10 students who graduate from secondary education then go on to pursue higher studies.

“So we have eight people struggling on the periphery, just trying to get into mainstream society in a knowledge-driven world. They don’t have any training beyond secondary education. Now that’s bad for your labour force, extremely bad for your labour force, but also equally bad for your productivity,” the educator warned.

Williams contrasted that to what transpires in other parts of the world where eight out of every 10 student who graduates from secondary school move on to post-secondary education.

“We can see immediately that the fundamental challenge that we have in moving this economic transformation forward has to do with getting more people at a qualified level within our workforce,” he concluded.

The renowned academic in the field of business and management further argued that the region has to begin moving away from its focus on economic growth and towards economic transformation.

“In order to do this, we have to ensure that we move our economy from basic commodity-driven economies in this region to what we call innovation-driven economies. It is at the innovation stage, friends, that we will see higher levels of GDP [gross domestic prodict] and allow more of our citizens to benefit from economic growth, and as such be able to make their contribution to a stronger social security system. However, to get there, we have to deal with two important issues that have really bedevilled us for a long time,” he said.

He identified those issues as inadequate training and the need to provide a social security system capable of providing a safety net for those who need it.

“Our human capital has to be far more advanced than we have it now if we’re going to build a stronger economy, and also move our economies up the value chain and get it into the innovation level of the economy. We have to get more of our people qualified at the highest level in order to have more persons benefiting from higher wages, and as such can make more substantial contribution to a robust social security system,” Williams said.

“A strong and resilient social security system is not only admirable for a brighter and better future, it is necessary for civilised society’s growth and development. I will ask, you show me a society that invests in its people today and allow them to reap the rewards tomorrow, and I will show you a society that is caring, that is gentle and, importantly, a society that is productive and humane. However, while social security is important a resilient and sustainable social security system is even more necessary today than before,” he added.