UWI for all ah we

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The news reports painted a grim picture. The University of the West Indies (UWI) is in financial peril because of the inability of Caribbean governments to keep their commitments to the institution.
That sad news was delivered by UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles during a recent report of the University Council, at Cave Hill, Barbados. In the live-streamed event, Sir Hilary said that the university was  “very concerned” about its current financial situation and would have to seek out alternative means of raising the required capital to carry on operations.
During the report, the vice chancellor said that a company that was contracted to look at the financial strength of the university reported that UWI was facing the headwinds of serious financial challenges and further, restructuring of its international operations were a must. The long and short of it:  UWI must generate more revenue. It is why you would have seen reports, not too long ago, about fee hikes at the Cave Hill campus.  Students attending Cave Hill will have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for their education from the start of the next school year in September.
The university announced that starting from the 2017/2018 academic year, tuition fees in the faculties of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education, and Science and Technology will see an increase of 6.67 per cent. Tuition fees in the Faculty of Law will be subject to an increase of 2.18 per cent while the lucky students in the Faculty of Medical Sciences and the taught masters programmes will not see their fees changed. The changes will also affect graduate programmes financed by University Grants Committee.
The reasoning behind the Cave Hill fee increase is said to be “in accordance with its previous commitments to attain a cost recovery ratio not exceeding 20 per cent of total economic costs on all three campuses”. The current cost recovery ratio at Cave Hill is approximately 17.9 per cent.
Things are changing for UWI. Four years ago, the Barbados Government stopped the tradition of paying tuition fees for Barbadian students, which had the domino effect of causing a noticeable decline in the number of students pursuing graduate and undergraduate studies. The situation was exacerbated by what has been described as the “severe challenge” of students being able to cover their fees. The university said that its hands were tied and warned that the increases could have been much higher – the recommended 43 per cent across-the-board hike was apparently rejected by its administration.
In assessing the overall situation, and reflecting on the fact that “the debt owing to this university by the Governments of the Caribbean is US $105 million” while also needing “an annual injection of US $75 million”, Sir Hilary said: “That is a damaging situation because without a budget there is no campus.”
That got us thinking about our local Five Islands education facility and its bid to become the fourth UWI campus. Already, the facility is facing financial and other headwinds as the administration seeks to fulfill its promise of transforming the originally planned secondary school into a full-fledged university. Minister of Information Melford Nicholas, at a recent post-Cabinet press briefing, revealed that the financing had still not been finalised. Further, according to the minister, “The main legislation will wind its way into parliament to establish the local institution that would be responsible for executing the arrangements with the University of the West Indies and to ensure that all of the matriculation that will be required, would be put in place.”
He added, “We are expecting that the full functional operation of the first school of the fourth campus of the University of the West Indies — the school of nursing — would be in full operation as of the September term [2018].”
In light of all that we have heard from the Vice Chancellor of UWI regarding the financial difficulty facing the university and the known financial difficulties facing our government, is this rush to open an Antiguan university more political pie in the sky promises than something we can look forward to sinking our teeth into?
When it comes to education and in particular, universities, money makes the world go around. With that said, it seems to be one of those things in extremely limited supply. We have not even begun to talk about the big or small details like faculty, recruitment, administration, curriculum, etc. When we further consider that Sir Hilary stated that “Caribbean governments were contributing less than 50 per cent to overall operation of the university”, how are we going to ensure the financial and operational viability of our proposed campus?
We do not want to burst anyone’s bubble or appear negative but we also do not want to see another political white elephant develop. We suggest that it is time to pause and take a good, long, hard look at this whole university thing. Application of some serious analytics could save us from an embarrassment or it provide tweaks to the current plan to ensure that we are not biting off more than we can chew.

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