ECLAC - UWI DEVELOPMENT PARTNER FORUM (VIRTUAL)
“INVESTING IN HIGHER EDUCATION
TO BUILD MORE DIVERSIFIED AND RESILIENT POST-COVID ECONOMIES”
14TH OCTOBER 2020
9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE OF THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
The Honourable Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados
The Honourable Gaston Brown, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda
Sir Hilary Beckles
Ladies and gentleman
A pleasant good morning and God’s blessings.
It is indeed my pleasure to warmly welcome you to today’s Development Partner Forum that has brought us together for dialogue and partnership under the theme, ‘Investing in Higher Education to Build More Diversified and Resilient Post-COVID Economies in the Caribbean.’ Your presence and participation here are key to our collective effort to secure the future of our region that is being threatened by COVID-19.
This Forum is taking place against the backdrop of a worsening global pandemic. A second wave of COVID-19 infections is currently hitting countries around the world. This has triggered the reintroduction of restrictions and lockdown measures as Governments fight to contain the virus. In our own region, setbacks have also been experienced with fresh outbreaks among various islands.
The Caribbean continues to be disproportionately affected by the economic impact of COVID-19, especially among the more highly tourism dependent countries. As a consequence, our region faces the risk of millions of people sliding back into poverty and greater social exclusion. COVID-19 also places us in a weaker position to deal with the climate crisis.
Colleagues, we simply cannot afford to standby and lose the hard-won economic and social gains that took decades to achieve. We have to act. We have to be bold in taking the necessary steps to build our resilience as Small Island Developing States and to strengthen our ability to bounce back from crises. However, we cannot do this alone. We need partners who can work with us, not just in the short-term, but over the long-term as we seek to build back better from COVID. I am pleased to see that we are moving in this direction.
In early September, ECLAC convened virtual meetings of the Caribbean Development Roundtable and the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee. These meetings initiated a dialogue on post-COVID recovery.
The powerful voice of Sir Hillary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, called on regional and foreign governments, international institutions and other stakeholders to make a paradigm shift in regard to Caribbean development. In particular, Sir Hillary emphasised the importance of greater investment in higher education to develop the human capital needed by the region to enable the diversification of Caribbean economies and to strengthen their resilience.
We are here today, ladies and gentlemen, to follow-up on this proposal with further dialogue and to seize the opportunities before us to partner on strengthening and expanding the region’s institutions of higher education for a post-COVID future.
Greater investment in higher education is definitely needed if the Caribbean is to develop both the institutional capacity required to help drive sustainable development; and produce the critical mass of graduates needed to support the diversification of the economy. Importantly, universities are recognised as critical to driving all 17 Sustainable Development Goals on the 2030 Agenda.
More immediately, however, there is a very important role for the region’s universities to play in data collection and analysis, research and innovation and entrepreneurship and industry development. In this regard, we are very fortunate to be served by the Caribbean’s preeminent educational institution, the University of the West Indies, along with other institutions in the region that are providing support to governments, businesses, and other bodies on a variety of issues.
Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, in terms of investment, we know that in order to bridge the digital divide, we need to inject funding for new technologies, new equipment, better broadband connectivity and ICT infrastructure to reach the most remote communities.
We also know that in a knowledge economy, lifelong learning is the new currency and skills training can enable citizens to quickly pivot to new economic activities. Very importantly, we also understand that higher education extends beyond schooling to the shaping of civilizations and the harnessing of indigenous knowledge.
There is a very strong case for putting higher education at the heart of resilience, particularly for SIDS whose vulnerabilities require them to be nimble and able to adjust quickly to new economic and social circumstances. However, the people on the ground must be equipped with the knowledge and training to do so.
The Caribbean’s most valuable asset is its people; and it is our investment in them that will make the difference in our recovery from COVID and in our longer-term development. However, we need economies of scale for the maximum impact of any investments made in higher education. The region will be best served if our institutions of higher education and development partners all work together.
I believe this is the only way the Caribbean will emerge stronger from this crisis, with more diversified and competitive economies and more sustainable and inclusive societies. We must strive for the innovation and social and economic dynamism that our societies are capable of.
I know there are some who may think our exchanges today will be just be another talk shop. However, I submit to you that it can be different this time. In fact, I believe we have no choice but to work more closely together as partners if the Caribbean is to survive this crisis and go on to thrive in multiple economic sectors.
I am very encouraged by the partnership already in action today between ECLAC and UWI – two eminent regional institutions– that have brought us to this virtual table, during this unprecedented moment in history. Let their partnership be an example to us as we go forward.
As Chair of today’s Forum, I encourage all participants to actively contribute to the dialogue so that we can get the best possible proposals on the table for consideration.
With that I will end my opening remarks.
And I’ll say that I thank you for your attentiveness.