Tower Annual Award Banquet

Tower Annual Award Banquet

The Most Hon. Andrew Holness, ON, MP
at the
Tower Annual Award Banquet
University of the West Indies 
March 24, 2017

Students, it’s my great pleasure to break bread with you at your annual banquet. It brings me back to my days at the University of the West Indies which was not so long ago. I’m looking at the audience and I see a few persons who would have known me as a student at the University of the West Indies.

My time at the university was some of the best years of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed being at the University of the West Indies; indeed I thought it was a great privilege to be at the university.

I’m not certain that that would be the case today for most students. When I was going to the university not many students actually got the opportunity. I think more and more students are getting the opportunity and that’s good because the truth is that as a country our aim should be that getting a university education shouldn’t be a privilege.

I’m not going to say it should be a right because I know that somebody is going to write that down but my dream is to – and as Professor Kahwa said – make our economy so robust, so strong that we can afford to make it possible for all those who matriculate to get a university education.

The reason why I accepted the invitation to come and address you, not to give you a long lecture but I believe it is necessary to reach out to this generation of Jamaicans. The last time I interacted with some university students I detected a great sense of pessimism which was very depressing. There was a sense that Jamaica has very little to offer so therefore we have to turn our effort and attention to other fields, to other countries and we are using our best resources overseas; we are losing them. They are leaving Jamaica to go and build other countries and that is part of the reason why our economy is not growing as it should.

There needs to be a new social contract between you and our government. We want you to stay in Jamaica. We want you to help to build Jamaica and I see some smile of disbelief but the government that I lead makes the commitment that we will make our government more efficient. We will be more entrepreneurial with our government, we will explore new avenues, we will diversify our economy, and we will bring corruption down.

We will invest in our young people and we will bring crime under control but we need to know that we will have the skilled population – persons like you in this room. The money which Professor Kahwa speaks about which represents I believe is a little more than thirty percent of the budget but we spend this every year on our students and we don’t ask back for it; that’s our gift to you. It might not be a lot, it might not be everything, it might not cover your total economic cost but the hardworking taxpayers of Jamaica have contributed that to you.

When you leave to find better opportunities, we hope that we will get back something in remittances. We will hope that one day maybe one of you will become a billionaire and remember Jamaica but that is the cost that we have spent to train human resources that we no longer have.

If we’re going to build Jamaica there has to be a new social contract where you have to take a second look at your own country to build your own country because the world is changing and it is not always going to be a pleasant world for migration.

At the end of the day this is your country and your home. We have to make Jamaica not just the geographical center of the Caribbean which it is but we have to make Jamaica the center of commerce, the center of trade, the center of the knowledge industry, the center of innovation and technology, the center of culture and lifestyle and arts, the center of the Caribbean; the place of choice to work, live raise your families, do business and retire in paradise. This is my dream for Jamaica and I’m hoping that this generation of Jamaicans will share that dream.

I want to point out something to you. In this room there would be persons who attended the University of the West Indies in the 1960’s and early 70’s. During that time, access to education was literally free. When they graduated at that time people were waiting on them with jobs. Jamaica had glory days.

You are now living in a time when we will rebuild and reclaim our true glory as a country and you play an important role in that but it starts with us putting aside the pessimism of the future and the cynicism that we have because of our experience of the past. We have to take a far more positive outlook on ourselves as a people and as a nation and it starts with you – with you who are here as students of the University of the West Indies.

I’m very pleased with the management of the university and the investments they have made in the infrastructure. I note that the University of the West Indies has their independent water source and I’ve been reading that within another year or so you will be coming off grid. Is that true Prof?

The plan- I’m certain JPS will not be happy with you but that is the essence of independence and I’m also very happy that you’re integrating into your energy sources renewables. I’m also very happy that you have decided to go the route of public/ private partnerships in developing your housing infrastructure for student but think the university can do more for the area in which it is located.

In other countries where there are universities of the size of the University of the West Indies or where there more universities located in proximity we find that there is a university township that develops around the university and it has been great talk about the development of a university township. I think the time is right for it and there are several factors which come together.

In Parliament recently, I announced the strategies that we had put in place to secure the expansion of the business process outsourcing industry and it is growing. This fiscal year we secured approximately five thousand jobs in that industry. We will be securing in the coming fiscal year over ten thousand jobs and we’re building out spaces for BPO’s.

Now BPO’s is not just about call centers and making telephone calls, it’s not just low skilled jobs. BPO has what they call knowledge outsourcing which requires the accountants, the engineers, the technicians; it has information technology outsourcing, the programmers and that is where we should be targeting our efforts and if we can build the infrastructure to support a BPO industry in proximity to the universities then what we would have started is a university town and we intend to pursue that.

My advice to the university is to look carefully at the real estate that you have and start making plans for their development. The public/ private partnership is not just the university and private sector; it is with the university and the government – a public/ public partnership. I am saying let us work together to develop this concept of a university township.

It would be great for students. You would get jobs, you would be able to subsidize your living cost and your tuition and the industries would get the employment that they need and I think it is a viable project and it is a project that I personally would be dedicating some time to make sure that it becomes a reality.

The government is very sensitive to the difficulties you would have as students in meeting your costs and there is now before Parliament a proposal for discussion on a kind of rethinking, reviewing of how we fund tertiary education. It’s a debate that is long in coming because we have been saying this for almost twenty years, but I will be giving it some serious attention.

I am happy to know Professor Kahwa that the university’s revenues have grown to such an extent by virtue of the entrepreneurial nature of the management of the university that what we contributed to the universities operation is a declining amount relative to the budget so that’s a big thing and we want you to become even more entrepreneurial. It doesn’t mean that what we contribute will decrease in real terms – we do make the commitments to contribute more to the universities, University of the West Indies and there are other universities but you hit the nail on the head when you said given our fiscal circumstances.

The only way we’re going to be able to do that is if we grow the economy and the University of the West Indies is a very important partner in our growth prospects so we want to work much more closely with the university.

When I was at the university of the West indies I lived for three years on Chancellor Hall so I know how hard life is, but during the elections campaign I toured a few of the halls and the conditions have improved dramatically from when I was on the halls; so I think Professor I gather you’re going to be building some more housing solutions on the campus, few more, a thousand more and the issue of the affordability obviously would be an issue. I’m certain that whatever you build will be affordable.

I raised that issue because around the university is a large housing economy which depends on the rental from students. I think more ought to be done to build out around the university and to work with those persons who make their homes available and who let a room or put on two rooms and take in students so that it is coordinated so things like security and safety and living standards can be regulated in the proximity of the university. I don’t believe you’ll ever be able to build out all the rooms necessary and so my thought on the matter is that you probably need to take a more direct approach with the communities around that provide housing solutions.

I think that would start to create the whole concept of an economy around the university and I think that will be in everybody’s best interest.

Ladies and gentlemen, students, I’m very happy to have had the opportunity to come share with you my thoughts and to break bread with you and again thank you.