UWI’s regional leadership boosts support for students in need

Pro Vice-Chancellor and Campus Principal of The University of the West Indies (The UWI) St. Augustine Campus, Professor Brian Copeland, has joined The UWI’s senior executive leadership —the Vice-Chancellor, other Campus Principals, Pro Vice-Chancellors, University Bursar and University Registrar—in increasing their commitment to current students in need at this time. The aim is to promote equity of access for all students.

At the St. Augustine Campus, two funds currently exist for students in need: the Student Hardship Fund and the Adopt-A-Student Programme, both managed by the Division of Student Services and Development. The Campus Principal has pledged to increase his direct contribution to the Adopt-A-Student Programme.

The Adopt-A-Student Programme – available for current registered students, began with contributions from 32 staff members in July 2005. It has now grown to hundreds of staff members making monthly contributions on the Campus. In addition to financial support, student mental health support, available through the Counselling and Psychological Service (CAPS) is also now available through telehealth. All UWI St. Augustine students can now schedule online or telephone appointments to the Counsellor.

“Many staff, through contributions on the personal or group level (as a Department), contribute to these funds annually and a significant number of administrative, technical and service staff have been supporting students directly over the years. In this challenging time, I am really pleased to see that this support not only continues but has expanded. Although we cannot yet be certain about the course of the pandemic, we are making sure that we put the necessary support in place not only for current students, but for those who will join us come September as well,” said Professor Copeland.

The executive leadership of the regional university has recognised that the rapid transition to emergency online teaching in response to the regional spread of COVID-19 has exposed the enormity of challenges facing financially and socially marginalised students. With a student body of close to 50,000, at least 10,000 of them are believed to be functioning in a social circumstance that makes it excessively difficult to participate equally and equitably in this moment where the ability to communicate digitally is absolutely required to conduct their studies.

The principals across The UWI’s five campuses stepped up in developing remedial projects to confront this reality and to restore the level playing field provided by the physical classroom culture. The UWI alumni have been called upon to participate in fundraising and philanthropists have also responded by donating hundreds of tablets. The St. Augustine Campus is also investigating the procurement of tablets using its Student Hardship Fund, to make these devices available on a loan basis. The offer of a salary-source contribution from the executive leadership to enhance student wellbeing “is another part of the UWI CARES project, designed to empower any excluded element of the student body,” says Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. He explained, “This is a justice gesture to further illustrate our commitment. We are here to serve and support them in their quest to succeed.”