Tue | Jun 18, 2019

Editors' Forum | Cash-strapped UWI defends deregistering new students

Published:Sunday | November 11, 2018 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson
Principal of the University of the West Indies Professor Dale Webber (left) and Dr Camille Bell-Hutchinson, campus registrar.

Staff cost remains the major expense facing the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, with its utilities bills and security expenses among the big-ticket items pressuring the administration as it attempts to remain financially viable.

Addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Thursday, the top leadership of the university admitted that it is facing financially challenges, but argued that measures are being implemented to rein in costs while increasing cash flow.

Principal of the university, Professor Dale Webber, said it spends as much as $65 million per month for electricity, another $15 million for water, and as much as $30 million per month for security of the campus, which is approximately 635 acres.

"As a university, we have spent a lot of money in the last five or 10 years trying to build buildings and put in place things that make us world-class, but we are looking at how we spend on various things," said Webber.

 

POLICY CHANGE

 

He explained that delinquent students and slow-paying governments continue to contribute to a shortage of funds, with the university left with little choice than to press students for outstanding balances if it is to meet its obligations.

"We are reverting to a policy that we had in 2014, which is that you must pay before you come in. Payment in advance is the norm, which we had dialled back on," said Webber.

He noted that in recent years the university has allowed students to pay only their miscellaneous fees at the start of the first semester and given them until January of the next year to pay. But that is no longer practical.

"So students would have gone through a whole semester, they would have completed examinations, they might even get their results, and in January they say they don't think they want to stay," said Webber, as he defended the recent decision to deregister some first-year students who had failed to pay their tuition fees and had failed to agree to a payment plan.

"How do I pay all the lecturers for that semester? It is unreasonable, I think, and it was an untenable situation," declared Webber.

"The 2,000 students who were reported as being deregistered quickly became 800 because many of them said, 'we understand now what you trying to do'. Then the number became 600 who said, 'let's enter into a payment plan' ... then it was 300 ... and right now we only have about 290 students without a payment plan and some of them have actually asked to defer until the year," added Webber.

 

GOVERNMENTS' FAILURE TO PAY

 

Bursar at the UWI's Mona campus, Nigel Logan, told the forum that the issue of regional governments failing to pay their contributions to the university remains a major problem.

According to Logan, while the contribution of the Jamaican Government has been fairly up to date, a number of the other governments are behind.

During a recent meeting of the University Grants Committee (UGC), Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley expressed concern over the financial health of the UWI because of the failure of regional governments to make their contributions on a timely basis.

Mottley announced that many governments had pledged to settling some of their arrears in the next few months.

She called for the establishment of a University Trust Fund to manage the UWI's wealth potential.

In his closing remarks at the UGC meeting, UWI vice-chancellor, Professor Hilary Beckles, expressed gratitude to the governments for their "commitment to resolving the collection crisis that has befallen the institution".

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com