Mon | Sep 24, 2018

Lebert Langley | UTech: funding the national university

Published:Sunday | August 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica, Academic Staff Union (UTASU) joins the debate about the viability of the national university, and the unique and vital contribution it must make if Jamaicans from all walks of life are to be empowered with skills to excel in the 21st century and create the nation we all deserve and desire.

Much has been achieved in the past, but the university must be properly funded and resourced to continue to excel in teaching, learning and research. A major issue that hampers the university's ability to better serve the needs of its main stakeholders - students - is the annual per-capita subvention from the Government of Jamaica.

We declare no ill-will towards other institutions, but make comparisons of subventions to buttress the case. For the 2016-17 academic year, each student at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus received per-capita support from the Government of Jamaica, through the Ministry of Education, of $454,753.

During the same period, each student at UTech, Jamaica, received per-capita subvention support of $147,702. This means that students at the UWI received $300,000 or about three times the per-capita support when compared with students at UTech, Jamaica. At that time, there were more than 18,000 students at the UWI, compared with over 12,000 at UTech. Subvention to UWI for the period was $8.73 billion compared with $1.87 billion to UTech.

UTech's per-capita subvention has been the lowest among tertiary and quasi-tertiary institutions for many years, falling to less than 50 per cent of the average per-capita allocation in the tertiary education sector. Teachers' colleges, the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), the Edna Manley School for the Visual and Performing Arts, and other quasi-tertiary institutions such as Community Colleges received up to five times more per-capita subvention than the national university.

UTech's per-capita subvention is lodged securely at the bottom of the proverbial pile and falls well below those of even secondary (yes, secondary) institutions. The Economic & Social Survey of Jamaica, 2015-16, shows that per-capita expenditure for vocational/agricultural schools was $472,663; grades seven to nine, primary and junior high schools $202,314, and technical high schools $158,810, all significantly more than the $146,901 for the University of Technology, Jamaica. Only traditional high schools, with $140,927, fell marginally below the UTech subvention.

 

UTECH LECTURERS UNDERPAID

 

Another contentious issue for the UTASU is the salaries of academic staff at UTech, which is the among the lowest in tertiary and quasi-tertiary institutions. Beginning in 2007, the Government of Jamaica aligned salaries in the education sector (teachers, education officers, HEART instructors, etc.) to 80 per cent of market.

However, the salaries of lecturers at the University of Technology, Jamaica, were not adjusted by the ratios required to maintain relativity as a Level Two institution.

The tertiary and quasi-tertiary institutions in Jamaica were classified in 1992 (Sherlock Report, 1991), with UWI (Mona) at Level One, the University of Technology, Jamaica, at Level Two and all others at Level Three. The salary structure reflected these three levels.

Today, this is no longer the case, and there exists a wide disparity in remuneration packages, in some cases more than twice the salary of the average UTech lecturer.

For example, some academics in Level Three institutions earn more than some academics at the national university and, in some instances, academics at the same rank at UWI are paid more than twice their UTech counterparts. This situation is so dire that some specialist teachers in high schools now earn more than some categories of UTech lecturers.

UTASU has, since 2010, agitated for an adjustment in salaries that would allow its members to maintain their relativity in the education sector. This adjustment was finally agreed among the finance and education ministries, UTech, and UTASU in the heads of agreement for 2015-2017 signed May 12, 2017. Having waited for eight years, and despite the severe erosion in the value of the remuneration package, to date, this agreed adjustment is yet to be implemented.

The burden of scarce resources has impacted working conditions of staff at UTech. This is evidenced by high levels of attrition, especially in key STEM areas critical for national development, low morale and the inability to attract faculty. The impact of this has also been heavier workloads for academics who must serve the needs of a student population that has doubled, the number of schools that has almost tripled (moving from seven to twenty), the increased number of colleges (moving from none to three) and faculties (from four to five), and programme offerings that have been expanded significantly.

 

HIGHER PERCENTAGE

 

A comparison with UWI shows UTech academics with a teaching load that is 50 per cent higher and no teaching assistants and markers, even while the expectations for teaching, research and community service output remain the same.

Despite this, staff have proved their dedication and loyalty to the institution by continuing to work in good faith with the hope that the working conditions will be improved to allow the university to build on the established platform of excellence.

The allocated government resources to fulfil this mandate must reflect equity in government subvention support to give each student an equal opportunity to realise their potential and play their part in national development, salaries that reflect the true value of staff, conditions of work, and improved infrastructure and educational facilities and technology.

There is no secret that UTech faces formidable challenges. But the institution's record of performance, its continuing invaluable contribution to national development and the key it holds in the realisation of our national vision point to the need for urgent dialogue and national consensus on the way forward.

- Lebert Langley is president of the University of Technology, Jamaica, Academic Staff Union. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.