The celebratory event, held at Goodenough College in connection with the University of London, brought together UWI alumni, academics, politicians and business leaders, all connected to education and the Caribbean.
Baroness Patricia Scotland QC, who attended in her capacity as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, and the first woman to hold this post, said: “The Commonwealth continues to harvest immense benefits from the University of the West Indies’ activity, in drawing out the talent and potential with which the people of the Caribbean are endowed.”
She added: “I salute the enduring regional and global contributions that continue to be made by and through the University of the West Indies. They are the fruit of seeds planted by successive generations of staff and students. Above all, they are the product of the vision of the founders and those who have carried forward the flame.”
The evening also saw the launch of UWI’s Windrush Fund, marking the 70th Anniversary of both the UK’s Windrush generation, and UWI’s foundation. This fund will be used to offer scholarships to young people in the UK, who wish to study with UWI in the Caribbean, and take the opportunity to explore their heritage.
Speaking of the Windrush Fund, Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE DL, the latest Patron of the British Foundation for the University of the West Indies, said:
I want young people to connect with their history, to connect with the West Indies, with the Caribbean islands; and not see themselves as separate entities, but see themselves as one. We are the Caribbean people, and four hundred years ago, we were scattered around like corn. But look how we have grown. When we are together, and when we feel included and are all embracing, we can make that difference. My job is to get as many people here in the UK to see that we need to connect.
Sir Hilary Beckles KA, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, explained how UWI has grown over the past 70 years, from a small college in Jamaica with 33 students, to a fully-fledged regional university, which now ranks as the largest higher education provider in the Commonwealth Caribbean, with four campuses that serve 17 Caribbean countries. Sir Hilary said he was delighted that UWI now ranks amongst top 5% of universities in the world, according to the 2019 Times Higher Education University Rankings. Specifically, Times Higher Education ranked the UWI at 591 out of the 1,258 universities which made the list.
Sir Hilary added:
The excellence of The UWI has been a well-kept secret for far too long. Now, with these very impressive global ranking results, we can begin to share with the world the story of this academic enterprise in the West Indies that highlights the intellectual achievement and scholastic contributions of the Caribbean community.
However, Sir Hilary paid tribute and recognised the role played by the University of London, in helping to establish UWI through its scheme of “special relations”, established to help deliver higher education in Commonwealth countries. It was through this relationship that UWI was awarded a Royal Charter, and HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, became its first Chancellor in 1950.
The event also featured speeches from Professor Peter Kopelman, Vice-Chancellor, University of London, and Chris Cobb, Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of London. Professor Kopelman congratulated UWI on its 70th Anniversary, and said that, as a doctor, he was especially privileged to acknowledge the long history existing between the University of London and UWI, which started with medicine. He also noted that this connection between both universities remains strong, and is valued highly.
Chris Cobb, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Operations), University of London, said: “It’s a privilege to join the celebrations of the 70th Anniversary of the University of the West Indies. UWI was one of the first to enter into ‘special relations’ with the University of London, and their first cohort of 33 medical students included 10 women. It is therefore fitting that this anniversary coincides with the University of London celebrating 150 years of being the first University to admit women into higher education in the UK.”
As we look forward to the next 150 years, I hope that the ties between our two institutions deepen and broaden in further ground-breaking ways.