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UWI AT 70

THE GLEANER, MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2018

D11

Prof Hazel Simmons McDonald

2008-2014

Prof V. Eudine Barriteau

2014-2015

Dr Luz Longsworth

2015-Present

PRINCIPALS

(OPEN CAMPUS):

Professor Sir Hilary

Beckles/Contributor

F

OR SEVERAL decades, The University

of the West Indies has had a

collection challenge.

The reason for this lies in the

following:

The regional economy has an

endemic growth crisis.

Governments have a frustrating

fiscal gap.

The private sector is struggling with

competitiveness and profitability.

Poverty is increasing in many of the

communities that constitute the

student catchment.

Herein lies the core challenge facing

the 21st-century UWI.

It is undoubtedly an expression of a

systemic problem within the financially

volatile western market economies.

Everywhere, university leaders are

faced with the same sets of variables as

they seek to sustain the excellent of

their academies.

In the Caribbean, however, our

challenge is unique in some ways. We

are seeking to maintain the excellence

achieved while our supporting

economies have not had sustained

growth for over three decades. We are a

small, vulnerable community with a

regional university that punches

considerably above its weight.

The problem on the ground lies in the

consequences of rising costs for students.

This has to do with the built-in tendency

for the unit cost in the higher-education

sector to rise faster than in other sectors

of the economy. A large part of the cause

resides in the high proportion of fixed

costs in libraries, laboratories, and other

critical infrastructure, as well as in the

international recruitment of high-quality

academics and necessary teaching and

research materials.

That said, the pressure is on the

university to reduce costs, become

more efficient, and demonstrate this by

transferring savings to students on

enrolment. While marginal costs have

been consistently reduced over time,

with gains measured and expressed, the

sticky wicket on which the university

bats is that 75 per cent of its operational

costs are human resource related.

The conversation began at the

highest level when the leadership of the

university met with Heads of

Government at the CARICOM meeting

in Haiti early in 2018.

Governments

and

university

expressed their challenges and a

diplomacy of compromise and mutual

problem-solving ensued.

Governments heard of the arrears

owing to the university and its

willingness to negotiate terms

consistent with their fiscal crisis.

DIPLOMATIC

BREAKTHROUGH

The

university’s

call

upon

governments to offer performing assets

in lieu of cash was enthusiastically

supported. This was a significant

diplomatic breakthrough, leading to a

warm consensus on the way forward. It

was agreed, furthermore, that Prime

Minister Timothy Harris of St Kitts and

Nevis would serve as ambassador-at-

large for The UWI in these inter-

governmental conversations.

Since then, the strategy has been

implemented in many countries. The

government of Prime Minister Keith

Rowley in Trinidad and Tobago, for

example, has offered as a performing

asset, the state-of-the-art, newly built

hospital in Couva, with considerable

value, to the UWI in a government-UWI

management partnership. The brilliance

of this option is expressed in the

willingness of the prime minister to lead

a conversation on UWI’s sustainability.

The new government of Barbados has

entered conversations with The UWI with a

view to provide a mix of cash and assets to

reduce the debt. Prime Minister Mia

Mottley is considering the most effective

ways to financially empower the university.

Other governments have entered dialogue

in respect of assets for cash.

NOT A LONG-TERM

SOLUTION

But this approach will not solve the

long-term problem. A sustained solution

to the university’s business model must

be found, one that looks at effective

receivable-recovery strategy, a long-term

funding model for students, revenue

enhancement and diversification

options, and consistent cost-reduction

initiatives.

The University Grants Committee,

chaired by PM Mottley, is looking into

proposals from management that

include securitisation of existing

rece i vab l e s, us e o f s e r i a l bonds,

and a new-design payment plan for

governments.

The matter of cost sharing between

students and governments remains a

national issue, and the issue of the

distribution of costs remains to be

settled.

Under consideration, also, is an

Augmented Income Contingency Model

with its multiple variables being

re s ea rched. Fi nd i ng f i s ca l space

f o r governments without further

burdening students is the outcome

being pursued as the institute seeks to

place itself in a more sound financial

position.

Recognising that university-level

education is both a private gain and a

public good, and that an investment in

each citizen’s higher education should

not be seen simply as a national

expenditure, the dialogue is

coalescing around the idea that a

shared investment model that includes

the public and private sectors is the

way to go.

The excellence achieved by UWI in

the 20th century has to be sustained

and fashioned for even greater

relevance going forward. Having a first-

class university in the community is part

of the Caribbean brand. All hands and

minds must come together to find the

path through the forest.

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles is the vice-

chancellor of the University of The West

Indies.

A new finance model for UWI