Letter of the Day | UWI needs to reform if it wants to survive
THE EDITOR, Madam:
I am writing this letter in response to The Gleaner’s editorial of February 28 titled ‘Hold hearings on UWI report’. I support The Gleaner in calling for greater scrutiny in the funding arrangement and in the management of these funds that are allocated to The University of the West Indies (UWI).
The time is now for us to change course in the way the Government of Jamaica funds tertiary education. The UWI was established in 1948. At the time, it was the only institution of higher learning that granted undergraduate degrees. By default, it was the only institution and, therefore, it received 100 per cent of the available funding.
That is no longer the reality in 2021.
Today, there are so many more universities and colleges operating in Jamaica. However, the funding structure to UWI remains the same. The truth is, there are thousands more students studying in universities and colleges in Jamaica other than the UWI. With this known fact, the UWI continues to receive the lion’s share of the budget that is allocated to tertiary education. Why should the UWI be expected to behave any differently if they are given such preferential treatment? The least I would expect is arrogance.
So when the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee requested an accounting on the expenditure of the funds allocated, the UWI blankly refused.
The UWI must face 21st-century realities. As a ‘dinosaur’ institution dealing with a lot of legacy cost issues, including emoluments and generous retirement benefits, it must reform itself so it can compete in the 21st century. Giving more money to a broken system is not the answer. The Government has been pouring more money at The UWI for years; however, the situation gets worse.
The UWI must be forced to compete. The UWI, on its own volition, will not make the necessary changes. Due to structural advantages with the A-level system and the preferential funding, many students chose UWI by default. I believe that students, given the options, will choose other institutions, thereby bringing more equilibrium to the tertiary education landscape.
This will allow for greater efficiency in the system and make obtaining an undergraduate degree more cost-effective. It will also allow for expanded access to tertiary education. I believe the population would double in our universities and colleges. I know the cynic will question quality; however. For far too long, we have allowed those who want to limit access to define quality education.
I take this opportunity to call for funding of students, rather than funding of institutions. Let us empower students and their parents, and give them real choice in the pursuit of higher education. To all UWI graduates in government, I submit to you that the UWI will do well in the new norm. There is no need to place UWI in a ‘protection programme’. This will be a win for all and not just some Jamaicans. This is what I describe as equal protection under the law.
WITFORD REID, MD