Ask a university graduate about an enduring memory from their time on campus and they may recall a favourite lecturer, taking a course that changed their career trajectory or making lifelong friends.

For some graduates, enriching memories of university life were driven by the peace of mind knowing they are able to get through a full-time degree programme without having to worry about how their fees would be paid.

The common denominator at any university is the collection of bright and curious minds pursuing study in their respective fields of choice. It should not be assumed, however, that every student comes equipped with the tools and resources needed for higher learning. Many do not arrive with the requisite support whether monetary, familial or emotional that they require to succeed.

A Different World

University life is a different world indeed, at times daunting – a rude awakening for some to the world of deadlines and keeping up with courses and commitments. Campus denizens may say it is about balance –attending classes, studying and completing assignments, versus pursuing extra-curricular activities and having fun. Balance also involves managing important life commitments – family, finances, job etc.

In her inaugural statement at the University of the West Indies St Augustine 2023 Campus Council Meeting, Campus Principal, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, pointed to the fall off in enrolment in the 2021/2022 academic year. Among the deterrents, she said, was the prohibitive nature of university fees for some students and she identified options that should be further explored.

“We must have sustainable tuition fees that are not prohibitive for the majority of our students. This means speaking more directly with banks, private sector donors, increasing bursaries, and promoting innovative bond arrangements in exchange for financial assistance and loan schemes,” Professor Antoine said.

Fortunately, for many students who face the financial burden, the UWI Development and Endowment Fund (UWIDEF) provides a bridge to help achieve balance and keep them on the path to academic achievement and success. To adapt the popular adage “it takes a village to raise a child”, it takes a community to fulfil the potential and ensure a student’s success at The UWI.

Across the region, that “community” comprises many parties, including Caribbean governments, The UWI administration led by Principal Antoine, UWI Alumni, families and corporate and individual donors, just to name a few. The UWIDEF has become a key pillar of that overall support, contributing to student well-being by funding scholarships at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

The UWIDEF Opportunity

UWIDEF offers deserving students in all seven faculties an opportunity to complete their degrees without having to worry about tuition costs, accommodation on or off campus, books, equipment, food, and travel.

As part of the regional UWI Development and Endowment Fund that covers all four campuses, the St Augustine Campus may be its eldest arm. In T&T, the fund’s history began in April 1989 (with a modest amount of funds) , and three years later, in 1992, it offered 15 bursaries. Thirty years on, UWIDEF has successfully provided 4,035 bursaries and 67 scholarships, contributing more than TT$21 million to support tertiary education. Each year it disburses around TT$1 million through 10 Star Awards valued at $15,000 each and 200 bursaries valued at $5000 each.

Over those three decades, UWIDEF has supported the St Augustine campus’ path to achieving self-sufficiency and expanding education opportunities, by providing the seed money for the construction of the widely utilized Sports and Education Centre (UWI SPEC)  and securing project funding for the construction of the Department of Chemistry as well as the School of Education.

During the COVID 19 pandemic, UWIDEF contributed TT$513,000 towards the purchase of 500 tablets for UWI students when physical classes were converted to online sessions. These devices are now part of a “device loan” programme, managed by the Alma Jordan Library.

UWIDEF, therefore, has complemented the University’s Triple A Strategy as it seeks to be agile in search for opportunities, aligned with society and economy, and provide affordable access to students. As The UWI upholds its vision to be an excellent global university rooted in the Caribbean, it starts by helping students as they follow the University’s mission to contribute to the positive transformation of the Caribbean and the wider world. 

Chairman of the UWIDEF, Dr Sterling Frost, a UWI alumnus himself, understands the drive for the community to support a student’s success:

“My parents couldn’t afford to send me to pursue my tertiary education. Every degree I have done up to my doctoral studies, I have had to work while studying. I have never had the luxury of full-time education. And knowing how balancing work and studies can be, I want to give every person possible that opportunity,” he said. 

Given his own experience, Frost, a recipient of Trinidad and Tobago’s highest honour the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (ORTT), is proud of the opportunity to now help students who need assistance. 

His satisfaction, and that of the UWIDEF members who also give of their time and resources, is in knowing the initiatives have borne fruit as the funds have offered a lifeline to as many students who are most in need of that financial support. “The result has been overwhelmingly positive,” Frost said at a recent bursary presentation.

The icing on the cake is gratitude from parents and students.

On one occasion, a single parent said UWIDEF eased her fears of supporting her child’s tertiary education. Expressing her gratitude, she said UWIDEF helped make her dream come true for her child to attend university.

On another occasion, a student sent hand-written “Thank You” cards to each member of the then UWIDEF Board.

Fulfilling the Dream

The UWIDEF continues to fulfil the dream of its founders, the late Sir Alister McIntyre, UWI Vice Chancellor (1988-1998) and the late Professor George Maxwell Richards, T.C., UWI Pro Vice-Chancellor (1980-1985) and Principal of the St. Augustine Campus (1985-1996). Both men, along with other like-minded Caribbean sons and daughters shared a passion for the University and a belief in making higher learning accessible to a wider group of Caribbean nationals.

Today, the UWIDEF presents itself in many ways to the public. UWI Fete, the UWI Golf Challenge, the UWI Garden Party “Fete Champetre” and more recently Ignite- A Benefit Concert are highlight events under the UWIDEF banner. They have become prominent must-go events circled on the T&T social and sporting calendars. While they celebrate Caribbean food, music, performance and sport, their underlying purpose is to raise funds for the Endowment and to increase awareness of the Fund.

Education is key to national development; it is the catalyst for social and economic change. To achieve it though, and to ensure the country benefits from its implementation,  starts by giving everyone an opportunity to embrace learning.

As Dr. Frost noted recently, “the role of education in the national development of a country cannot be denied. Education is no doubt directly linked to the process of nation building and development and it is in this we find our purpose.”

Perched atop the UWI’s Coat of Arms is the Pelican, a symbol of care for the young. Likewise, the UWIDEF carries that Pelican Pride as it continues to ensure the wellbeing of students.