The UWI’s landmark industry-alignment deal with Sandals and FIU.

Vice-Chancellor Beckles describes as the ‘post-COVID takeoff’

The University of the West Indies (The UWI) has penned an agreement with Sandals Resorts International (SRI) and Florida International University’s (FIU) Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, solidifying a landmark industry-academic alignment partnership to establish a world-class tourism training institute based at the University.

The Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart International School of Hospitality & Tourism is expected to be a cutting-edge, research-led facility, which will provide students with an immersive, holistic world-class learning and training experience. It will be headquartered at The UWI Mona (Western Jamaica) Campus but integrate all the other campuses in The UWI system, recruiting students from across the Caribbean archipelago.

The initiative is one of the most significant cases of the implementation of The UWI’s Alignment pillar within its Triple A Strategy 2017–2022, which centres on collaboration with the private sector to help to strengthen the innovation capacity of the regional economies and lead to higher levels of growth, by taking the cue from real-world needs.

On Monday, October 25, Vice-Chancellor of The UWI, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) together with Executive Chairman of Sandals Resorts International’s Adam Stewart and President of the Florida International University, Dr. Mark B. Rosenberg to advance the project. Initiated by Sandals Resorts International to commemorate the company’s 40th anniversary, the new institute also honours the legacy of Sandals’ founder, the late Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, OJ, CD, Hon. LLD.

The tribute is particularly meaningful for The UWI given the University’s longstanding friendship with Butch Stewart who held a lifelong belief in the power of education. At the 2019 Annual UWI Toronto Benefit Gala, Sandals was honoured for its extraordinary international success and positive contribution to the region. Butch Stewart was also the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree from The UWI, Mona Campus in 2001 in the area of Tourism/Eco-tourism.

During the October 25 signing ceremony, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles contextualised the significance of the institute stating, “What we’re witnessing here is really part of the preparation for post COVID take off. We know this pandemic has severely damaged our tourism…But what we are looking at here is a strategy that moves us into the future at a higher level of performance. Tourism is a profession that requires sophisticated practice and this is what Sandals represents. But it also requires ongoing higher education research and planning and that is an academic function that cannot stand in isolation. So ideally, the industry is best served by the mobilisation of the research potential around tourism, as well as the teaching and learning of course, as well as the elegance of professional practice.”

Affirming the intent of the partnership, Sandals Resorts International’s Executive Chairman Adam Stewart said, “This is the world’s leading Caribbean hospitality enterprise coming together with two of the finest academic institutions on planet Earth. We specialise in hospitality and we’ve recognised that together we will achieve more.” He elaborated further, “Just listening to the intent here of these incredible universities and our incredible company coming together…there will be nothing like this anywhere else in the world. This is going to be unbelievable. That’s what we can do for learning for the future generations.”

Echoing those sentiments, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal of The UWI Mona, Professor Dale Webber noted, “This partnership is an excellent way of meeting our key strategic objective of aligning what we do as a research university with the world-class business acumen that distinguishes Sandals as a leader in the hospitality industry. We anticipate that through this new teaching facility we can significantly bolster regional development by graduating professionals who can safeguard the gains of the past and continue to chart the way forward for a sustainable and equitable hospitality sector.”

Director of The UWI Western Jamaica Campus, Dr Patrick Prendergast said “This is a project long in coming. Tourism education in the region can only be better from this type of collaboration between industry and academia and we at The UWI Mona WJC are happy to be able to locate such a critical element of tourism development in the city of Montego Bay.”

Tourism Specialist and Deputy Executive Director of the Mona School of Business & Management, Professor Andrew Spencer shared his enthusiasm in seeing the initiative come to fruition. During the MOU signing ceremony, he noted that the partnership with Sandals Resorts International provided valuable experiential learning, and “an avenue to shape tourism in the region, from the classroom to the boardroom, through greater input at all levels of growth and development.”

The UWI also proudly shares this initiative with Florida International University, deepening its partnership, which spans several years. In his remarks at the signing ceremony, Dr. Rosenberg noted, “We are thrilled to be able to deepen our relationship with The University of the West Indies.” He added, that this cutting edge initiative “promises to not only elevate the state of the art of hospitality management education, but will also inevitably enhance the employment opportunities and the prosperity of the greater Caribbean, of which in Miami, we are an intimate part and proudly so. So what brings us together is the promise of a new initiative, an initiative that is uniquely on one hand, Caribbean and regional, but on the other, that is ideally suited for the conditions of the 21st century, global economy.”

Outlining next steps for the venture, Vice-Chancellor Beckles estimated that over the next six months, more of the details and logistics of the institute will be ironed out with the aim of seeing the first cohort of students join in the next academic year.