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Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) at UB and in Belize – some reflections (Part 2)
Creating the Ingredients for Research Success at University of Belize
Let me turn my attention to a matter that has been quietly engaging my mind, since coming to the University of Belize a mere few months ago.
You would have all heard my internal and public utterances of bringing the UB on par with other Universities, at least at the undergraduate level. That is, our basic output as a University will be graduates who have completed a 4 year degree programme leading to a Bachelors’ Degree. For those with any Associate Degree in Science for example, studying another two years here. This we are relentlessly pursuing with the leadership of our Deans/Department Chairs/Administrators. We need to factor CAPE into this discussion also! Level I and Level II and their equivalencies in terms of credits transferred. I know there are going to be new/upgraded programmes in the areas of Biology, Chemistry, Information Technology, Mathematics/Statistics, in Engineering/Geomatics, Food and Agriculture and Allied Health. These are exciting times at UB, and all of these, combined with strong programs in Business Leadership and Management with Education for example. However, I have hardly commented on research at UB; where we are and where we should go? How we foster innovation, at the University, in Belize, another subject that is near and dear to me and allied to research - a matter of deep thought as well as learning, recognizing this new environment in which I am in, Belize.
But let me comment quickly on the necessary ingredients for building a culture of research and innovation at UB, as I have on a few occasions been asked about UB’s commitment to research output. Let me restate that:-
(i) Research and innovation are parts of our Mission, our mandate, but at this time our research output from a classical, University sense – graduate students, peer reviewed publications, theses, books, patents, etc. is very low. There has been an almost exclusive focus on teaching at UB with some Undergrad/Staff research as demonstrated today. That has been UB’s success to date.
(ii) That research and innovation at UB and in Belize are critical engines for creating a better, more competitive, prosperous and caring society with all the attendant gains. Our research and development and innovative work at UB must be aligned with the country’s vision and developmental path i.e. research not for its own sake, or for curiosity, important as that is, but for problem solving, innovation in new products, processes, systems and policies.
This must be addressed as the next step in our transformational leap. We must build a capacity for research at UB, as this does not happen in a vacuous environment and all including the Government, the Public and Private Institutions, our University Community and the public at large should be made aware of this. These are all parts of a National Innovation System (NIS) that should be created in Belize. We must INVEST if we wish to build research capacity at UB and in Belize. Several ingredients need to be addressed and I share ten points viz:-
(i) Building the human, academic staffing capacity. More PhDs on our staff in Science and Technology and in Business and Entrepreneurship in particular. We must aggressively seek to hire staff who have both the training and appetite for research and teaching.
(ii) More and better trained technicians for our laboratories; those who are focused on developing them and skilled in their operation also.
(iii) Laboratories and workshops suitably equipped in all the Science and Technology disciplines – giving our student/staff the ability for “hands on” experiences and research methodology.
(iv) A University or even a National Library where our Students/Staff can access the latest books/journals/databases, many of these in an electronic form and hence Information Technology is critical. The Library also serves as a place for study and reflection and engagement.
(v) Resources for research – funding for both human, capital and recurrent costs. A dedicated research “seed” fund for example within the University, as a start, led by a dynamic Office of Research that seeks with energized staff, additional support for Research at UB.
(vi) A pool of graduate students, MPhil/PhD who are fully engaged in research at a very high level in very specific developmental areas (Supervised by Scholarly Faculty) and who must be funded with scholarships, grad/research assistance ships, etc.
(vii) Support, rewards, recognition and promotion of staff and students for excellence in research, to attend conferences and symposia etc., to publish, to patent.
(viii) Links/partnerships with the business/industry/government that create, drive and nurture a research agenda.
(ix) Regional and international strategic partnerships to quickly build research and development capacity.
(x) A competitive research and innovation fund at the National/Regional Level to support research in priority areas– Food & Nutrition, Health & Wellness, National/Regional Competitiveness, Trade & Industry, Crime and Security, International Relations etc.
I ask all of you gathered here, do we have this research ecosystem in place? Do we have this at UB? Further is the external environment one which supports our internal environment to foster a culture of research and innovation? Are the policies, systems, infrastructure, funding and incentives in place in Belize for a vibrant research, development and innovation effort to support national development? Are our businesses and industries so engaged? Based upon the limited information I have, my answer would be unfortunately, no. However I wish to stand corrected, through appropriate data. As far as I am aware, there is no dedicated line item at UB to support Research. Hence, I applaud those staff members who have gone out, externally, to win Research grants. All our academics must strive to seek such funding.
So there is much to be done to build a thriving research, development, innovative and creative capacity at UB and in fact Belize. What would greatly support this would be policy setting by the Government of Belize that shapes a National Innovation System (NIS) for Belize and in which the University of Belize, with its capability and its further development in Science, Engineering, Agriculture, Health, the Environment, Business and Entrepreneurship, and the Creative/Cultural Arts can be brought to bear. This must be part of our immediate Vision. I hope to speak more on this subject. Today’s Science Symposium and the work of the staff and students are pushing UB in the right direction; I applaud all of you involved. This must be accelerated as the bar is raised. Hence my hope that some of our Undergrad students today, will be the graduate students of tomorrow and later our successors in Academia. Hence we can leave a great legacy to chart UB and Belize’s future course. My best wishes to all. Thank you.