On May 30th, Professor Densil Williams, with his usual brilliance and verve, outlined the management complexities of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in an excellent article entitled “Understanding Complexities of the University of the West Indies”. Professor William brilliantly outlined the problems facing the institution, more than 70 years old, which has produced some of the region’s finest intellectuals and leaders, as well as captains of industry. What is pretty clear about Professor Williams’ arguments is that the challenges are not insurmountable. In order to master the challenges, a unity and determination of all those involved is necessary.
One argument that Professor Williams would have liked to clarify in his article was the recent contribution of the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) to the UWI. Prior to 2009, there was an agreement that the state government would contribute to the economic costs of every student attending the facility. The set rate was 80 percent of the economic cost, while students would contribute 20 percent. But in the face of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the Bruce Golding-led government decided, in my “good faith” opinion, to make a fixed payment to the institution until the country recovered from the recession the world wore on Jan. Time. A little more than J $ 6 billion was allocated to the UWI and that was about J $ 3 billion less than what should have been paid to the institution.
The regulation of the Golding administration found its way into the standby agreement of 2010 with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It states: “Tertiary study grants will also be nominally frozen at the 2009-10 budget level while a means-testing system is put in place.” The current Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, was then Minister of Education and was fully involved in the decision to change the established formula. The established formula came about through agreements between the respective stakeholders in the University Council, the body that is responsible for accepting fees for students at the UWI.
The decision of the then Golding government was continued by the government led by Portia Simpson Miller, with Ronald Thwaites as minister of education at the time. It now seems to be developing into the established GOJ model for university funding. The basic question that needs to be answered is: is this a fair and pragmatic move by the GOJ?
In 2008 the GOJ created the Vision 2030 development plan for Jamaica. This development plan is irrefutable Jamaica’s roadmap for developing world status. At the center of this plan is the formation of a critical mass of the tertiary population. These are the people who have the skills and expertise to make Jamaica more competitive on the world stage. The world is a global village and our products and services must compete with countries that invest heavily in education, especially in higher education.
Professor Williams pointed out in his article that in developed countries seven out of ten students dropped out of high school and entered post-secondary education. Conversely, only two in ten high school graduates in the Caribbean switched to the post-secondary level. It cannot believe that in the era of the 4th industrial revolution. It can’t cut it in the age of robotics. You can’t cut it at a time when the service industry is growing exponentially.
The GOJ requires universities to achieve their goals for the professionalization of citizens in order to bring the country to developed world status by 2030. The tertiary institution with the largest capacity in the Caribbean is the UWI. And the UWI has gathered and responded to this demand with determination. It has increased its pre-COVID-19 enrollment of students to 19,000. This is an increase of about 10,000 in 2008. Over a 12 year period, the institution has increased its enrollment by about 90 percent. The bottom line, however, was marred by the arbitrary change the Korean government made to reduce its financial contribution to the institution.
FUNDING TERTIARY EDUCATION
In 2019, I asked the Senate a series of questions about funding higher education and specifically the GOJ’s debt to UWI. Responses to questions stated that the UWI owed an estimated J $ 33 billion in debt. Additionally, the GOJ acknowledged that the decision to make a fixed annual payment was made in 2009 and this resulted in a reduction in the percentage contribution to the economic cost per student at UWI. According to the current UWI documents, the GOJ bears less than 40 percent of the economic costs for every student studying at the university. This has left a huge gap in the institution’s budget and required a Herculean effort on the part of the institution’s management team to keep the ship stable.
Kudos to the Vice Chancellor of the UWI, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, for his visionary stance on this matter and the increase in tuition fees. The Vice Chancellor insisted, correctable, that the tuition fees should not be increased at this point in time. Because it would be unacceptable for students to be burdened with a fee increase if the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on families throughout the region. Around 3,000 students who were enrolled in the period before COVID-19 did not enroll at Mona in the 2020-2021 academic year. It is therefore inconceivable how high the fallout rate would have been had there been an increase in tuition fees at UWI during this pandemic.
The GOJ’s goal for the 2030 Agenda is therefore questionable. With this short-sighted decision by public policy towards the UWI, it is inconceivable that the goals formulated in the Jamaica Vision 2030 development plan will be achieved. The GOJ must establish a rapprochement with the UWI and fulfill its outstanding obligations to the institution. It must discuss an appropriate contribution to the institution with the administration. For example, if the government were to contribute 50 percent of the economic cost of every college student to UWI, it would go a long way toward solving the problem.
The Vice Chancellor has outlined a comprehensive plan to redesign the UWI. This 10-point plan formulates a new financing model in which the state, the private sector, students and the UWI contribute to the financing of the institution. I strongly advocate and support the model. The GOJ must get on its way and honor its commitments to educate our nation’s youth.
If the GOJ does not take steps to correct and reconcile its contribution to the UWI, the institution will likely be forced to significantly reduce student enrollment. This option would further delay the progress of the country and the Caribbean. It would ruin the future of a number of our brilliant young minds who see education as a means to lift them out of eternal poverty.
It is blatantly unjust that some politicians who are graduates of the noble institution should treat higher education in this haughty way. The song by acclaimed reggae artist Ernie Smith is relevant and healing: “Can’t build no fund pon a if and a but. Are we building a nation or are we building a hut? ”
– Dr. Floyd Morris is the opposition senator in the Parliament of Jamaica. Send feedback to email@example.com