UTASU | UTech underfunded by design?
Recent news reports tell us that the House of Representatives has approved the second Supplementary Estimates. The Government plans to spend an additional $11.45 billion for this financial year. The minister of finance’s statement on the matter should be noted. He said that this “favourable fiscal performance resulted from a confluence of higher than projected revenue and grants and below programmed expenditure”.
Among the increases that were announced was a $963-million increase in subvention for The University of the West Indies (UWI). There is no doubt that The UWI deserves every bit of these funds, and more.
Stakeholders at the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica had been expectant that there would be an increase in subvention. But alas! Not a penny for the national university. There is no evidence so far that efforts are being made to address the glaring inequity in the per student subvention allocation for UTech Jamaica students. Why was UTech ignored, again?
A review of the per capita subvention for students attending tertiary institutions indicate that UTech sits at the bottom of the list.
It is shocking to note that UTech’s per capita subvention was lower than those of teachers’ colleges, the College of Agriculture, Science, and Education (CASE), Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, community colleges and most secondary schools.
In other words, the University of Technology, Jamaica received the lowest per capita government subvention of any tertiary institution in Jamaica, and less than most secondary schools. This appalling disparity cannot be justified and must be corrected with dispatch.
DIFFICULT WORKING ENVIRONMENT
The absence of adequate funding at UTech has imposed a difficult working environment upon all, including academic staff and students. Notwithstanding this, UTech Jamaica faculty has maintained academic excellence at great personal sacrifice and has delivered to the nation thousands of skilled professionals, has tripled the student population since 2007, and has been able to earn programmatic, and most recently university accreditation.
However, the signs are clear: if the national university is to continue on this path of excellence, there needs to be an urgent injection of sizeable funds.
Over the years, working conditions have deteriorated and it has become palpably clear that the institution urgently requires adequate resources if it is to continue to offer a learning environment that encourages and facilitates excellence. Further, there needs to be an unambiguous recognition of the value of UTech Ja as a major contributor to national development.
A substantial increase in subvention will begin efforts to remedy injustice being meted out to students at UTech, will indicate government support for the university’s management and send a clear signal that the students of Jamaican taxpayers who are attending the institution are to be treated fairly.
It will also allow for an easing of the tension that has resulted from the failure of the Government to honour and implement the 2015-17 Heads of Agreement (HOA).
Various reports have recommended increases in subvention and associated increases in payments to academic staff. There is no justification for the continued flagrant disregard and lack of implementation of the recommendations of the various studies (including PriceWaterhouse 2006, the Ministry of Education-commissioned Focal Point study, 2007-8, and several internal market studies) by the Ministry of Finance.
The Government, in 2007, agreed with its consultants, Focal Point, on an adjustment of teachers’ salaries to 80 per cent of market. All other groups, with the sole exception of UTech Ja academic staff, have since received their adjustment. This has been a source of great concern to the Academic Staff Union, which has pressed for the adjustment over many years, crossing different political and university administrations.
The ministries of education and finance, the management of UTech, Ja and the University of Technology Academic Staff Union (UTASU) signed a 2015-17 Heads of Agreement, which would have adjusted academic staff compensation.
The continued failure to honour this HOA and the accompanying poor working conditions have resulted in numerous faculty resignations, including several who, having attained terminal qualification including PhDs, have left the institution for greener pastures.
The university also finds it difficult to attract replacements because of its long outdated salary levels. It is a matter of grave concern to the Academic Staff Union that this matter should still be unresolved deep into yet another academic year. It continues to confound us that there is no resolution.
The Academic Staff Union has declared its frustration that this palpable injustice has persisted for so long, despite its patience and numerous meetings and other initiatives.
In recent times, UTASU has attended scores of meetings with various government ministers, permanent secretaries, staff committees of the ministries of finance and education, university presidents and managers at every level. There has been little by way of results for its show of goodwill.
The union must now conclude that there has been too little return from its investment in negotiation to continue any further on this unproductive course. Other options available under the industrial relations laws must be contemplated.
The students at UTech Jamaica deserve better, the staff deserve better, the management deserves better! The status quo cannot remain any longer.