A frequently voiced complaint is that our institutes of higher learning, in particular our universities, are not making a worthwhile contribution to policy issues and are not informing public discourse about the problems confronting Jamaica.
The complaint is two-fold: first, that research at our universities is academic and has little practical relevance and second, that the universities are simply not doing enough research.
This complaint is ironic in a society that does not sufficiently value research, judged by the minute percentage of GDP devoted to scientific research and the paucity of private sector-funded research. Indeed, the society needs to place much more value on scholarship and give comparative treatment to our scholars as we do for our sport and entertainment stars.
One clear indication that the universities are not doing enough research that has immediate relevance to policy issues is the fact that we have not seen a recent major paper on crime, debt management and the red mud residue of the bauxite industry. A large part of the problem is that the universities do not devote enough resources to making their research output available to the public and policy makers and do not facilitate use of their research by purveying it in a form that is digestible by the public.
There are exceptions and one such is Professor Hopeton Dunn who has been, throughout his career, an exemplar of a scholar practitioner. He has lived the creed of theory and practice. Dunn is Professor of Communications Policy and Digital Media at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He serves on several national, regional and international councils and is the Secretary-General of the International Association for Media and Communication Research and Chairman of the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica. Professor Dunn is the author, editor or co-editor of six books, 15 book chapters, 20 journal articles and three monographs, including the well-known book Globalisation, Communication and Caribbean Identity.
We were prompted to make this comment by the recent launch of his new edited book Ringtones of Opportunity: Policy, Technology and Access in the Caribbean. The issues raised in the book, surrounding the actual and potential development role of information and communications technology (ICT), are of paramount importance for the Caribbean region which is in the process of a transition from traditional economic structures.
The book argues that future Caribbean development strategy must involve the continual incorporation of ICT because the fundamental development dilemma of globalisation is how developing countries can extricate themselves from being "digital diasporas" and ICT is critical to crossing the "digital divide".
The essays (from a raft of specialists) in this volume combine analysis, empiricism and policy recommendations appropriate to the Caribbean and the global South. The book also discusses the complexities of formulating and implementing development policies and promoting capacity building, particularly in ICT and telecommunications regulation.
We say well done to Professor Hopeton Dunn and the University of the West Indies at Mona. We also acknowledge that his work is sustained by a multifaceted partnership with the equally praiseworthy Dr Leith Dunn.