Universities are the key to healthier, greener, fairer societies. Finding solutions for social and economic development which are environmentally sustainable is one of the most pressing challenges facing global leaders today.
For many Commonwealth small island states, oceans play a vital role – enabling international trade, tourism, energy and food security, and supporting jobs and livelihoods. However, human development activities have seriously taxed the resilience of their marine and coastal environments.
The ACU is partnering with the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and the University of the West Indies (UWI) to support the development of a Centre of Excellence for Oceanography and the Blue Economy at UWI’s recently established Five Islands Campus. The partnership has been formalised through a memorandum of understanding (MoU), signed today by The Rt Hon Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of UWI, and Sir Edward Byrne, Chair of the ACU.
The Caribbean region stands to benefit from an emerging industry worth USD 2.5 trillion globally through the sustainable diversification of the economy into areas such as aquaculture, marine renewable energy, biotechnology and sea vegetable farming. Antigua and Barbuda has been active in key blue economy initiatives at a national, regional and global level, including co-championing the Commonwealth Blue Charter’s Sustainable Blue Economy Action Group, which encourages better stewardship of ‘blue resources’.
The new centre of excellence will aim to advance intellectual progress and strengthen institutional capacity in the areas of marine science and the blue economy while benefiting from the societal, economic and environmental opportunities for the Caribbean within this emerging sector.
As the oldest university network in the world, with many members from island states on the frontline of climate change, the ACU is uniquely placed to convene university partners from across the Commonwealth in support of this ambition. A mapping exercise to scope interest in this project elicited responses from 70 individuals at member universities, with representation from every global region.
Sir Edward Byrne, Chair of the ACU said: “None of the Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved without higher education. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda’s vision to develop a Centre of Excellence in Oceanography and the Blue Economy at the UWI Five Islands campus is a key example of this, and we welcome the government putting higher education at the heart of their approach. Today lays the groundwork for the Association of Commonwealth Universities to leverage its unparalleled global networks and convening power to support success, by developing the academic partnerships and collaborations which underpin research-led solutions.”
The Honourable Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda said: “The UWI Five Islands Campus is an investment in the youth of Antigua and Barbuda and the Eastern Caribbean. My Government’s support for this Centre of Excellence for Oceanography and the Blue Economy is predicated on our vision to provide easier access to quality training and new knowledge at a tertiary level for our people. Its realisation will require our collective ingenuity and commitment to identify and secure the necessary resources to advance this important ambition. I therefore invite all present today to partner with us in a tangible and efficacious manner to establish this Centre in short order”.
Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies said: “We are an activist university, tackling all of the big challenges facing our region, and committed to serving the development needs of our people. Expectedly therefore, The UWI has been at the forefront of teaching, research and advocacy on sustainable development and climate action in the Caribbean for many decades. Our years of significant contributions have earned us recognition as the global leader in the mobilisation of research and advocacy for a climate smart world. It is a designation we have proudly accepted with a deep sense of commitment. In furtherance of that commitment, we embrace this opportunity to mobilise our expertise as we work alongside our governments and partners in this area of critical importance to the sustainability and competitiveness of the Caribbean.”
Professor Sir Ed Byrne AC, Chair of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, said:“None of the Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved without higher education. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda’s vision to develop a Centre of Excellence in Oceanography and the Blue Economy at The UWI Five Islands campus is a key example of this, and we welcome the Government putting higher education at the heart of their approach. Today lays the groundwork for the Association of Commonwealth Universities to support success, by convening universities from across the Commonwealth and developing the networks and collaborations which underpin research-led solutions.”
The ACU, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and UWI are working alongside the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) and the Commonwealth Secretariat to mobilise support for this project.
A series of outbound scoping missions are planned, currently on hold due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.